PixelJunk 4am hands-on preview

Neither PixelJunk 4am nor the original title, PixelJunk Lifelike, really offer any concrete indication of exactly what Q-Games' upcoming PlayStation Network release will be – but after playing it and seeing it put to amazing use, we finally have a sense of what it's all about. And part of the motivation behind the vague naming probably comes from the fact that it's not a game at all, but rather a bold and unique PlayStation Move-enabled tool that just happens to reside (and rely) on a video game console.

As has become slightly more apparent since the recent name change, PixelJunk 4am is a music creation suite that lets you utilize the Move controller to pull in a variety of effects and loops into the soundscape. In practice, this means various bits of sound can be located by pointing the Move remote up, down, left, or right beyond the borders of your television, and then feeling a vibration. Once found, you can pull that sound into your current song and manipulate it on the spot.

Essentially, PixelJunk 4am serves as a dead-simple music sequencer, with no knobs or heavy documentation to deal with; it's all based on experimentation and feel, with the Move controller at the absolute nexus of the experience. And all you'll see on the screen are swirling trails of light or other visual effects intertwined with the sonic experience. With four tracks to work with and layer – swapped via the face buttons located around the Move button – you can easily build complex arrangements while also adding one-time sound bytes, as well as manipulating DSP (digital signal processing) effects by holding the Move button and guiding the controller through virtual space.

And just like that hour in the morning, PixelJunk 4am ideally won't always be experienced alone. Local two-player co-op is available on the creation side, but the more promising option comes from the online performance mode, which lets other PlayStation Network users tap into your live show and even send feedback, which will likely manifest itself in the form of simple, positive-only indicators. As explained to us by Q-Games developer Rowan Parker, DJs often shape their sets in real time based entirely on crowd feedback, and this feature hopes to emulate that sensation.

Tinkering with PixelJunk 4am at a demo station at the recent Fantastic Arcade indie games event in Austin, Texas helped convey a solid sense of what the PSN download is all about. But what really sold us on the capabilities of 4am was seeing Baiyon – the man behind PixelJunk Eden's lush visuals and music, as well as co-collaborator on this venture – take the stage and use the software as part of a two-hour-plus DJ set at the festival. Granted, he was using it in unison with more traditional DJ gear, but watching him use the Move on stage to pull sounds into the performance at various points was electrifying, and a sure sign of the app's abilities.

But unlike with a standard game soundtrack, creating the music for PixelJunk 4am requires four separate tracks per song, each with unique loops and effects, so Baiyon's got his hands full wrapping up the tunes in the weeks and months ahead. As such, Parker says a release by the end of the year is possible, but cannot be set in stone – and it may well slip into next year. But whenever this fresh PixelJunk experiment finally launches on the PlayStation Store, we're sure scads of under-loved Move controllers will happily take to the beat of this intriguing music experience.

Oct 3, 2011