Top Ten of 2009 - PixelJunk Shooter

I'm writing less than a week after the launch of this game, which - knee-jerk reaction or not (time will tell) - has thundered into the upper tier of this list.

It's a goddamn twin-stick-cave-flying shooter.

Only it's not.

OK, if you've heard anything about this game you'll probably have heard how woefully inappropriate and almost misleading the name is. The decision on a title was thrown open to a competition, and for better or worse Shooter was chosen by the winner. You'll also probably hear that a more fitting title would be PixelJunk Fluid, or Elements. The reasoning being that this is more about manipulation of fluid-based physics than taking on hordes of enemies with white-hot laser death.

Physics done well in games can be a joy to play around with. Anyone who's played Half-Life 2 probably spent a good deal of time just messing about with the Gravity Gun, and LittleBigPlanet - while deeply flawed as a platform game - provided an incredibly fun and inventive play set. There's a feel to perfectly-pitched physical movements that is immensely satisfying, and PixelJunk Shooter nails it. So we have water, lava, ice, and magnetic liquid metal to manipulate in the service of rescuing stranded miners, solving puzzles, and dealing with hazards and enemies. Lava melts ice, water cools and hardens lava, and so on. There's a definite sequence of progression through each (rather small-scale) level, and it's the solving of this sequence in the most efficient way that makes the game so compulsive.

PixelJunk Shooter employs the very popular flat-coloured Flash style of visual, which I fully admit I'm not much of a fan of. Flash animation almost invariably makes me think of Monty Python, and my head equates that with a kind of half-arsed cheap 'n' cheerful effect. I can get over it with this game though, because the other elements are done so artfully. The music is lovely and the control of the craft is very intuitive and smooth.

Relatively short and very forgiving in its handling of failure, PixelJunk Shooter provides a wonderfully chilled and enjoyable meshing of old-school concepts and modern technology.

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