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February 5, 2008D. Riley

Desktop Tower Defense and I enjoyed a longer-than-brief flirtation. I whittled many hours away on the job in some remote computer lab or other, clicking ferociously on little gray blobs. This was near the end of my tenure with the University of Pennsylvania, whose policy towards their workers (i.e.: me) I’d begun to loathe. My disenfranchisement transferred effortlessly into wasting countless hours defending myself from the DTD’s creeps. See companies? This is what happens when you don’t give your workers health insurance.

After work I’d come home and discuss the day’s strategy with my roommate, himself recently employed and quickly finding slacking off to be the most productive use of working hours. We never beat the hundred level challenge, but I argue that was a flaw in game design more than a lack of effort on our parts.

The better part of a year later I live in a different city. I have no job. I have no roommate. (Does your girlfriend count as a roommate? Will I get in trouble with her for asking that?) I have no Desktop Tower Defense. Most of my stuff is in storage, including the Desktop PC that I haven’t yet found a place for. Without a mouse there’s no point in doing the Desktop Tower Defense thing. If you can play that game with a laptop touchpad then you are a better man than I.

So I don’t have a job, I don’t have a roommate, and I don’t have Desktop Tower Defense. Now I have Pixeljunk Monsters.

Originally I hated it. I picked up the controller and I was convinced I’d thrown away $8 (the price of a whole sandwich in the way-too-expensive New York City). In Pixeljunk you don’t build a maze, the maze is already built for you. In Pixeljunk you can only build towers where there are trees, and whoever does the gardening on these boards was clearly not thinking about the need for home defense. Sometimes there are half a dozen routes the enemy can take to reach your home base. As someone who only lightly grazed on tower defense in its Warcraft III era and really only came into his own when they started letting you build your own maze, this was downright offensive to me.

I wasn’t thinking clearly. It’s long been a position of mine to resist change, especially where videogames are concerned. I don’t play many RPGs anymore. I’m too impatient to learn their little wrinkles on new gameplay mechanics. I got less than five hours into Final Fantasy XII, but I’ve played through Final Fantasy Tactics twice since FFXII since its release. I didn’t even make it out of the first room in Planescape: Torment, but here I am completing Fallout 2 for the twentieth time.

My heart cried out for Desktop Tower Defense when I held that PS3 controller. If I didn’t have that all-important eight dollar purchase price over my head, I might’ve turned off the system and never looked back. If I was given the courtesy of a demo, like any Xbox Live Arcade game, I probably never would’ve even bought it.

But I did buy it. And I did quit my job. And I did move to a different city. I changed, didn’t I?

So I kept my hands on that controller, and I played Pixeljunk Monsters. And I deciphered the goofy little symbols, I figured out what upgraded attack strength and what upgraded range. I learned the importance of crossbow towers. I cursed my luck every time I spent too many gems and couldn’t afford a flamethrower.

Pixeljunk Monsters isn’t Desktop Tower Defense. Your avatar is more than a cursor, he’s a dude wearing a beetle shell that zips around the screen. So you can’t whip your mouse to the other side of the maze when you’re in trouble, you have to run your guy all the way over there. You don’t always have the luxury of upgrading your towers with a single mouse click. Sometimes you have to stand your little man under them and watch him work his little butt off, praying that the power-up happens before that horde of enemies closes in for the kill. Your failures are similarly anthropomorphic, and you might feel a twinge of guilt every time a spider makes it through your gauntlet and (cutely) devours one of your child-like villagers. It’s certainly more impacting than watching a life tick off the status bar at the top of your screen.

Pixeljunk Monsters isn’t Desktop Tower Defense. New York isn’t Philadelphia either. Times change, and so do videogames, and I think I’m finally starting to catch up to that trend. At first I hated Pixeljunk Monsters because it was different. Now it’s been twenty hours or more with the game and I’m starting to realize it was just right.

2 comments for ‘Pixeljunk Monsters’

#1 Daniel Purvis Feb 7, 2008 01:52am

Ahh, see here I am wondering why people played Desktop Tower Defense! Then again, here I am using a laptop without a mouse ...

I'll probably never try playing Pixeljunk Monsters. I don't believe I have the patience to sit and click trees with a controller, it's not for me. My time is spent with Super Stardust HD and soon, Devil May Cry 4.

However! I did enjoy your review, and thought it was quite a productive waste of my employers time. So thank you!

#2 Mitchell Dyer Feb 23, 2008 03:06pm

I've played this game for the better part of 20 hours. Maybe more. I think PixelJunk Monsters is exactly the kind of game that folks perceive as casual, but its depth is immense, despite only having to build towers.

Do I spend gems to upgrade my towers?

Or do I buy a sweet-ass flamethrower instead?

Some of the levels border on insanity in the difficulty department, but it's still an insane amount of fun. Local co-op limits multiplayer, but god dammit if it's not some of the best co-op on the PlayStation. I'll be gunnin' for your high scores, Riley!