The Forest Defender, Tikiman, is back to protect his children in PixelJunk Monsters for Wii U. Developed by Q-Games and Double Eleven, PixelJunk Monsters is the second game in the PixelJunk series that started on the PlayStation 3. This time around Double Eleven is porting the popular indie game to the Wii U, marking the series' Nintendo debut.
Since each PixelJunk game is a standalone title in a separate genre, let's break down what you'll see in PixelJunk Monsters on Wii U. Monsters is a tower defense game, but the focus is on Tikiman. Unlike most tower defense games, however, you don't operate as an "overseer" with the ability to place towers just anywhere along the path. You actually play as Tikiman by running him around the map, building up your towers where trees exist, and collecting the coins and gems from defeated enemies yourself. In theory this shouldn't change much… But Tikiman has rather short legs, and it can take some time to run across the map to collect coins and make it back to build a tower on the other side of the stage. It's stressful, so prepare yourself for sweaty palms.
PixelJunk Monsters looks great, too. Everything has a cartoony feel, runs quite smoothly, and has a fun overall feel to it (which is great, because when things get hectic the last thing you want is choppy animation and an ugly Tikiman staring back at you). The different islands give you a nice variety in scenery as well, so you're never stuck looking at the same assets for the whole game.
We mentioned controlling the Forest Defender earlier, and this is the moment where the Wii U truly shines, especially when stacked up against many of the other devices that have seen PixelJunk Monsters releases. You can play 3 different ways with the GamePad. You can have the display mirrored, which is standard for most games. You can turn the GamePad off if you want to play strictly on your TV. Or, and this is our personal favourite (not just for PixelJunk but for most Wii U games), you can run your Tikihut on the GamePad as an extension of the game off your TV. This allows you to follow all of the action on the TV, ensuring that no baddies reach the end of the lane, all while managing your upgrades and new tower purchases from your GamePad. Without the GamePad extended display you need to run back to your Tikihut for any upgrades/purchases, but with the GamePad you don't need to make that trek; as a result this is easily the sweetest deal of the three. It saves you time, and it utilizes the strength of the console.
The variety that you experience throughout the game is great. There are three different islands with completely unique environments, all throwing new and different foes at you. Some by air and some by land, you'll have to constantly modify your tower lineup to manage each wave of monsters. The best part of all, however, is that even if you finish up all of the preset stages for the game there's always Tum-Tum Island. Tum-Tum Island randomly generates levels for you. So if you're still just looking to pick up and play, you can always experience something new. You can also pick difficulty levels to challenge yourself as you replay.
All of that is great. A new twist on classic tower defense and tons of replayability, but one sore spot in all of this - the music. It's not necessarily bad, and it does manage to stay out of the way when you're concentrating on how to save your little ones and defeat the constant waves of monsters, but it's not necessarily good either. It's mostly forgettable, which doesn't have to be a strike against it, but in a world where most smaller scale games heavily rely on their music to convey feeling and emotion, or just to get you tapping your feet and humming along, it's a bit of a disappointment.
All in all, even though it's an 8-year-old game, PixelJunk Monsters is a welcome addition to the Wii U. It looks sharp and smooth, utilizes the GamePad very well (which is always a plus for any game that arrives on the console), and still manages to provide a unique tower defense strategy. Things can get stressful, as they are supposed to in tower defense, but that's all part of the fun and genre. Just make sure your towers are equipped to handle both land and air, and those nasty monsters never make it to your Tiki children. Be safe out there, Tikiman!