Review: PixelJunk 4am
Let me just start this review off with the fact that PixelJunk 4am is not a game. There is no win condition, there are no lives and you won’t be fighting any bosses. Secondly this is not rhythm game. No Bemani, Guitar Hero or Rock Band tropes apply. What you will be doing is dropping some phat beats, cheering others on and getting into trance-like zones. PixelJunk 4am is first and foremost a piece of software that harnesses the power of your PS3 to turn your living room into an underground Kyoto nightclub.
Much like with other titles under the “Play Create Share” moniker there are two aspects of 4am, being the creator and being the audience. Being in the audience is really easy, in fact anyone with a PSN account can join the crowd. This is due to the fact that Q-Games has included the Live Viewer in the demo for the title. Simply hop onto the PlayStation Store, grab it and you can turn your PS3 into a electronica streaming radio station. At anytime, whether with the demo or full version, if you let it sit on the main menu 4am will randomly pick a stream to join. From here you can either join the channel or let it be and in a few minutes another one will be picked. All of these stream are of live players somewhere across the globe, there is no recording sessions with 4am.
If you choose to join a channel from the Live Viewer you can do it in a few different ways. When you first enter you can see all of the live sessions going on in a cover-flow layout. When a channel is in focus you will hear a small sample of what is going on. There are also ways to narrow the lists based on what your friends are doing and if any performers that you follow are on at the moment. You can also see how many people are in the room and how much they are “feeling” the performance. This feeling is based on kudos, which are much like Facebook “likes”. Anytime while listening to a person perform you can shake your controller to give them kudos. This forms a very important feedback loop with that performer. I can tell from experience that you get a rush when seeing your kudos number rise. It is super addicting and is what has me coming back to perform over and over again.
All of that is available in the demo. There are two other areas that are locked away for paid players though, the visualizer mode and performing. In the visualizer mode you can play any of the music that is on your PS3’s hard drive using the different visualizers you have unlocked while performing. 4am uses the same code that drives the visualizer while performing, but now it is analyzing anything you throw at it. If you use a PS3 to play music at all this is worth the purchase right here as these easily top most of the default visualizers supplied with the PS3. But I do wish that you could select the visualizer you want, as of now you can only shuffle through them at random. My go to zone out visualizer is the one based on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The main draw to PixelJunk 4am though is its Move-based music performance which is streamed out live. Remember you can only perform with a Move, the Dual Shock 3 is not supported. The controls are simple to learn, but there is much to master. When you first start it up you will be brought into a tutorial. Here 4am will teach all about the Virtual Audio Canvas that you have created around yourself. You can make this canvas larger and smaller by calibrating your Move controller which is simply done by drawing a circle. Around this invisible circle is where all of the samples and sounds used in the session live. To bring a beat to life all you need to do is select a button on the Move (Triangle = Synth, Cross = Drums, Circle = Rhythm and Square = Bass) and find where it is on the canvas. The Move controller will rumble when you find one, after that just need to grab it with the Trigger and bring it into play. The tactile feedback you receive from the rumble helps as the controller will also vibrate a different way when you release it to the scene. You could pretty much play the game blindfolded, not that you would want to, it is just that easy. The Move orb will also glow with the color you have selected and in no time you will be a master at bringing in all sorts of sounds.
4am also uses all sorts of beat tracking analyzers, so even if you aren’t Baiyon the majority of the stuff you produce sounds great. At first you will be just bringing tracks in here and there, but there are also some other more advanced things you can do. Swinging the move left, right, up or down will create a one-shot sound. Each of the different layers has 4 unique one-shots which can be dubbed and looped. This is how you can bring that extra something special to your live set. Also by holding the Move Button down and doing such actions as twisting you can apply different digital signal processing effects to the tracks or one-shots. When you learn your way around these you will rack up the kudos in no time at all.
PixelJunk 4am can be played solo, with a friend locally or if you are godlike, using 2 Moves at once. The two Move method, besides making people who dance with glowsticks super jealous, allows for further control of your song. By Dual-wielding you can manipulate 2 tracks at once, allowing you be fiddling with dsps while at the same time dropping some phat bass. There is also something special that happens when you bring the two Move orbs together, but I will let you hear that on your own.
The more you play 4am the more you unlock. When starting you only have access to one venue and a single set of samples. After playing for a few hours you will have close to a half-dozen different sets of visualizers and samples to work with. I swear that I could have been abducted by aliens with all the lost time I keep having while playing 4am. I look down at my clock and see that it is around an hour from when I started. You just get into the zone while playing, an active crowd is what really makes this happen. So please, if you are watching and dig what a person is doing… shake that controller and show some love. With six hours under my belt I still have two venues left to go out of the total 10 that 4am offers up. I sort of wish I knew how long I had until I unlock a new one, but the mystery of unlocking keeps me playing.
If there is one thing you take away from the review I hope it is this, Q-Games is known to be experimental but this is above and beyond anything they or any other developer has done on the PlayStation Network. If back in 2006 someone told you that in 6 years time you could be crafting music that anyone with a PS3 could listen in on you would have called them crazy. But with PixelJunk 4am, you can do just that. Heck you don’t even need to be near a PS3, if you are lucky you might end up on the PixelJunk Live Twitch Stream. This is the pinnacle of what you can and should do with a PlayStation Move.
A copy of PixelJunk 4am was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- The rush you get from having people give you kudos.
- All of the great visualizers and samples.
- How easy it was to create music that sounded good.
- Getting lost in a session
What I Dislike:
- Not being able to select a certain visualizer when playing music from the PS3.
- Not knowing when new venues would unlock.
- No internet connection, no way to play