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When PixelJunk Monsters debuted as a downloadable PlayStation 3 game in early 2008, it proved a real diamond in the rough – and something of a revelation. This was before tower defense games exploded in popularity, and still months before we had an App Store, let alone one eventually filled with numerous great genre options. To see a game mine such rich strategic complexity out of a simple approach was so impressive at the time, and I fondly recall pumping dozens of hours into the game, alternating between extreme emotions of glee and rage as I stared into the cartoonish glow.
Now, nearly six years later, you can do the same on Mac with PixelJunk Monsters Ultimate, an all-encompassing release that features all of the content from the original game, its expansion pack, and a later expanded PSP release. Luckily, time hasn't weakened the game's allure. Building offensive towers atop trees to hold back the advancing waves of enemies still proves to be entrancing, and while more recent genre entries have offered a more diverse array of enemies and towers, not to mention a more moderate challenge curve, PixelJunk remains one of the absolute best.
Though the core conceit of the genre – that is, keeping enemies away from a lair by using limited resources to purchase and place turrets – remains familiar, PixelJunk Monsters has its own distinct and especially active approach to how the action plays out. Rather than tap and upgrade any tower like an all-powerful being, you'll control the little Tikiman, who must run around to each individual tree to place and enhance a tower, as well as collect coins and gems as they spawn from fallen enemies. You'll also need to stay out of harm's way – run into a foe and your coins will spray all around, and you really can't afford to lose them here.
Each fresh wave brings a new array of enemies to dispatch, whether they're little walkers, speedy spiders, or flying birds and bats, and each has different strengths and weaknesses against your available arsenal of towers – like cannons, arrow turrets, and laser rifles – forcing you to pick placements smartly and strategically as each level progresses towards the boss at the end. PixelJunk Monsters challenges from the start and has its share of painful difficulty spikes in the mix, which can be incredibly frustrating, but the rewarding sensation of completing a stage (especially perfectly) and the supremely charming hand-drawn visuals and catchy music make it difficult to give up in the face of significant adversity.
Between the three core islands, there are 47 total stages included, plus a fourth island that randomly generates enemy waves using the existing maps. The Mac version also pulls in both local and online co-op play for a more collaborative twist on the formula, which has its own feel unique from going it solo. Ultimate on Mac is priced higher than some other stellar tower defense affairs, but between the huge amount of content and burning desire to flawlessly complete the stages, PixelJunk Monsters could be one of the best gaming investments you'll ever make.
The bottom line. PixelJunk Monsters is one of the all-time top tower defense games, and Ultimate brings its excellence to Mac in fine form.
Mac OS X 10.6 or newer, 1.5Ghz dual-core processor, 2GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 3000 256MB or better
Smart and strategic tower defense gameplay. Excellent cartoonish visuals and incredibly catchy soundtrack. Loads of content within this collection. Local and online co-op play.
A bit simpler in some ways than the genre entries that have come since. Difficulty spikes are still pretty severe in spots. Locked to 16:9 aspect ratio with borders.