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PixelJunk 4am – The PS3 Attitude Review

Submitted by on Wednesday, 13 June 20123 Comments

Originally imagined as a visualizer, a living extension of the PixelJunk Eden world, this product was considered too passive for public consumption. That was until January last year when Q-Games got hold of the PS Move controller. They put the device through its paces and came across all sorts of creative ideas. Thus beginning the evolution process from a simple visualizer into the game we now know as PixelJunk 4am.*

4am isn’t so much a music creation tool, more of a music manipulation game. Instead of starting from scratch, you are playing around with tracks supplied by DJ Baiyon, whose music you may recognise from PixelJunk Eden. You take his superb house and techno samples and warp them, add different layers and completely distort them until they become totally unrecognisable from their original form.

Sound limiting? Well it isn’t. The face buttons on Move cover four areas – bass, rhythm, synth and drums – and each one has four loops which you can drag into the song from the corner of the screen.

On top of that, you can add reverb, flange, delay and low & high pass filters by performing unique gestures with the controller. It doesn’t end there: 4am also has one-shot moves, which are often percussion sounds which you create by bouncing Move off the sides of the screen. The one-shot moves and effects can all be looped.

Wow crowds and gain kudos

So on the face of it, 4am may seem like a basic and fairly limited freeform music game, but once you’ve looked a little closer and understood all of your options, it becomes clear that this is anything but. If you have a musical ear, or simply a little dedication and an open mind, you can come up with some great sounds. 4am has over 190 sounds to play, so you’ve got plenty to work with.

This genre is very old, of course. We remember banging out tunes on MTV Music Generator back in the PSone days, and the genre dates back even further than that. There are also games that go much deeper than 4am. This isn’t a criticism, though, because the music creation aspect is not what makes 4am so interesting. No. 4am is interesting because it offers a fresh take on how you can interact with a freeform music game.

Music creation games often come across as being reclusive and isolating, something you would do alone – sitting behind a PC or while lounging about on the couch with a controller. It’s a solitary sport. But the addition of Move automatically makes it more involving and engaging. You’ll likely want to stand up and move with the rhythms and beats, and this starts to shift the focus away from creating to performing.

4am is a sociable game, one you could play with friends (it has co-op) or even set up in a room at a house party – should you have like-minded people over. It’s fun and gives you plenty of opportunities to express yourself, plus it is easy to dip in and out.

The performance aspect is built into the core of game, because you are always broadcasting live. Others can jump into the Live Viewing screen and listen to your performance. They may follow you if you impress enough, and your tunes may even end up blasting out on the PixelJunk site.

This could easily have been off-putting, but the team has handled the social features well. There is no voice or text chat. You don’t even know if you’re being watched unless equaliser bars are appearing from the bottom of the screen, indicating that someone is giving you kudos. You only have positive interactions, so it’s never daunting.

Baiyon has shaped the art direction as well as producing the music

The kudos system is extremely satisfying. It feels like you’re getting genuine recognition for your performance, and we’re seeing some performers drawing in hundreds of viewers and picking up a ton of kudos. They must be loving it. Those performer could be any old average Joe, and this might be the closest they’ve ever come to performing live in any shape or form. That’s the most exciting thing about 4am: it gives unlikely performers an opportunity to broadcast to a large audience and get recognition for their talents. It’s already forming a great community.

Facebook and Twitter are also integrated into the game, pinging announcements out to your friends and followers whenever you jump into an event. This doesn’t have to be activated, but it’s another example of how Q-Games is really pushes the social/performing aspects of the game.

Of course 4am may only appeal to a limited audience, and this type of game won’t come naturally to everyone; however, there is no doubting that it is well made and it does what it intends to do very well. It’s a game that rewards you more the more you put in.

It’s also one of the most creative uses of Move yet. It’s integrated seamlessly with subtle vibrations offering welcome feedback whenever you perform an action. It has all the hallmarks of a game that has been designed from the ground up to use the device – we’re looking at you, 70% of Move games. Even the glowing orb adds to the atmosphere.

The only complaint is that it can be tricky to gauge the level of effects you’re layering on, but you do adjust to this eventually. We would have liked more tracks too, but if we’re honest, we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of the seven songs included.

Baiyon is also responsible for 4am’s hypnotic art direction, which changes depending on which samples you’re using. One of the most pleasing things about 4am is that the screen is completely clean. There is no HUD. The only time it feels like a game is when you’re getting kudos, but we wouldn’t change that.

Are we surprised that 4am has turned out so well? Not at all. Q-Games brought Shooter, Racer, Eden, Monsters and SideScroller to PSN, some of our favourite downloadable titles. The studio has continued that great form with this ambitious Move exclusive. Sure it may be a bit niche for some, but we urge anyone looking for something different to give it a chance.

*Learn more about 4am’s origins in this interview with lead designer Rowan Parker over at The Spawn Point.