The thread tying the PixelJunk series of games together is the unique spin it puts on traditional concepts. Q-Games' first PlayStation Network title, PixelJunk Racers, relied on chaining combos to spur your slot car around the track, making it as difficult to grasp conceptually as it was to control. PixelJunk Monsters infused the militaristic tower defense genre with dancing monsters and a crushing difficulty. It makes sense that its first foray into platforming would be just as crazy as its other offerings. PixelJunk Eden uses a sparse aesthetic and freeing jump mechanic to create an experience more commonly found in one's dreams, until you run into the nightmarish clock.
The sprawling garden levels of PixelJunk Eden require precise maneuvering if you want to visit their outer reaches. By tapping any of the face buttons while gripping onto a plant, your grimp will shoot out and swing onto a fine strand of silk. You can swing from this to gain speed for a courageous leap toward a faraway stem or to collect objects that are just out of reach. By hitting the button again, you cut the strand, landing wherever your momentum takes you. Trying to manage this unorthodox control scheme can initially seem like an overly complicated request, and you'll spend many of your early moments plummeting helplessly back to the ground after a miscalculated leap. But there is a method to this madness; as you learn to properly judge both distances and your momentum, you'll find yourself easily swinging from branch to branch, shooting out silk and gliding to unfathomable heights.
Like any thriving garden, Eden's are overflowing with puffs of pollen that are just dying to inseminate the scattered seeds. By nabbing these floating balls, you can pollinate nearby bulbs, creating new foliage from which to cling. The key to successfully navigating the later stages in Eden comes from how efficiently you can collect these wayward bits. By nabbing a number of them in one leap or swing, you can string together combos that divvy out even more of the precious life energy. The more plants that sprout, the easier it will be to collect the five Spectra scattered throughout each stage. Spectra are akin to the stars Mario must collect in his 3D adventures; you collect more to open new levels, up to the 50 total in the game.
There is a reason why you have to make your way efficiently through the levels, and it goes against the very nature of this game. An arbitrary time limit has been forced on you, making you rush through what should be a deliberate adventure. Simply existing in this world--taking in the beautiful sights and getting lost in the pounding music--is a joy. The early levels give you ample time to leisurely roam the world, slowly figuring out where the next Spectra is hidden while you happily pollinate another seed. The serene pacing feels perfect, and the environment is a peaceful, happy place where you could lose hours of your day. But the game's harsh time limit, under which you'll have to constantly search for new pellets to feed the quickly diminishing meter, ruins the mood completely. Eden should be a place of quiet beauty; instead it's all too hectic and often exhausting.
The beauty of Eden is hard to ignore. The visuals and music combine to make a world that is simply breathtaking. The art style is extremely simple; it's hard to even make out any distinguishing features of the main character. But it's wholly unique, drawing you in quicker than a by-the-numbers aesthetic would have been able to. The music, a droning techno beat, might be irksome on its own, but it actually complements the onscreen action, making the gameworld feel complete. The lighting subtly changes as you progress through the levels, tweaking the hues to play with the mood of your experience. It's a gorgeous game, one in which passively watching is almost as enjoyable as doing the spinning and leaping yourself.
The three-player, offline-only cooperative mode adds a mound of frustration to the single-player experience. The camera is the main culprit here. The view will focus on one of the three Grimps onscreen, though it seems to choose which gets its attention completely at random. If a player leaves the screen for more than two seconds, they'll be magically warped back to the heart of the action. This system is inherently flawed, though. There will be many instances where your friend will misjudge a jump and find themselves plummeting to the very bottom of the level. Instead of letting them fall and teleporting them back to the more capable players, the camera will often follow their mistake, warping you all the way down to them. It's a crushing feeling to see your progress quickly erased because of bad camera design.
The other major flaw with Eden is the sheer repetition present in replaying levels. Every time you nab a Spectra, you are booted back to the hub world. This means you will have to play through each level five times to collect every one in the game. And when you replay levels, you have to recollect Spectra you've already grabbed in addition to new ones. Even though the levels go through slight visual changes as you grab more Spectra, the plant placement stays the same every time. By forcibly removing you from the levels instead of letting you collect every Spectra in one shot, Eden artificially extends the length of the game and, in the process, makes it quite tedious.
Despite its faults, PixelJunk Eden is a game worth playing. The striking visuals, distinct score, and surreal maneuverability make this an engaging ride. It's a shame the serenity was shattered by an all too demanding clock, but when you’re not overwhelmed, it remains one of the most unique platforming experiences in recent memory.