PixelJunk Monsters is the surprisingly addictive strategy game from Q-Games released earlier this year for the PlayStation 3. The deceptively simple-looking downloadable title tasks you with keeping a small village safe from a diverse horde of critters who come at you in waves. You'll deal with the incoming threats by laying down assorted defensive structures that will hopefully take out the creatures before they get to the village. You'll earn money and jewels you can use to research new structures to build that will help defend against the increasingly challenging hordes. If you've played Desktop Tower Defense or games in that vein, PixelJunk Monsters should be a comfortable fit. In the wake of the game's success, Sony and Q-Games are prepping an expansion pack for the game, PixelJunk Monsters Encore, which adds a new island with more challenges and gameplay refinements. We had the chance to get our hands on the upcoming expansion and are pleased to report that it's looking pretty sharp.
The core of PixelJunk Monsters Encore is Toki Island, a new land mass next to the one seen in the original game, Tiki Island, which you see on the game's world map. There also appears to be a tinier land mass in between Toki and Tiki Island, but we'll touch on that in a bit. Toki Island is laid out in the same general structure as Tiki was, so you'll see a main path through the island with a few offshoots and branches along the way that represent the different levels and bonus areas. All told, you'll find 15 new levels that feature visual enhancements such as weather effects (we saw rain and snow) and, from what we've seen, more adventurous layouts. Two standout levels are a Space Invaders-style layout with the village on the bottom of the map and a Pac-Man-inspired map that sets your village in the middle.
The gameplay has also seen some subtle tweaks based on feedback and Q-Games' own desire to do some fine-tuning. The structures you'll have from the start of the game will now include the ice tower, which slows down enemies. However, our favorite tweak is the reduction of the research cost for the Tesla tower, which is now only 10 jewels. Our less favorite tweak--although, to be fair, it's more of a design thing--is that the special abilities you earned in the original game, such as the absolutely key ability to run, will have to be earned again. There also appears to be some kind of special bonus, tied to the smaller land mass we mentioned earlier, that you'll be able to access once you finish the game. While Sony reps were mum on the specifics, they did say that simply clearing the expansion pack was enough, which is good. As anyone who's tried to earn all the rainbows for clearing levels in the original game can tell you, clearing a level without losing one villager is a nail-biting, profanity-spewing kind of challenge.
As we mentioned earlier, the visuals in the game sport some new enhancements--but don't go in expecting any dramatic improvements. The subtle charm of the original game is enhanced with the addition of the new weather effects and little tweaks such as a new look for some trees. Your little tribal defender and his charges look the same, as do the various foes you'll encounter. The work-in-progress version of the game we tried still runs at a pretty smooth clip, even with the addition of the weather effects, although you'll still encounter the odd hitch every once in a while like in the original.
The in-game music for the game pack adds some much-appreciated variety to the mellow tunes you'll hear while playing, courtesy of five new tracks from Otograph. As with the visuals, you won't hear anything that departs too much from the formula used in the original game, but it fits in just fine.
Overall, we have to say we're pretty excited by how PixelJunk Monsters Encore is shaping up. The new content is fun and challenging, while the gameplay tweaks polish the action up just a bit, which is always good. If you were into the original, you'll definitely want to keep an eye out for the game when it's available on the PlayStation Network store toward the latter part of April (you'll need to already own the original game to get it). If you've never checked it out, you might want to consider having a look. Check back for more on PixelJunk Monsters Encore in the coming weeks.