Q Games' Pixeljunk series comprised some of the first independent, low-overhead, download-focused games to hit the market. Now that this segment has become the single most vital aspect of the games industry -- the place where creativity and smart budgeting collide -- I think we can forgive Q for digging in and building a game that seems to encompass every major trend in indie games all at once. They helped create this market, after all; surely we wouldn't begrudge them the opportunity to play around with the features and concepts that have grown out of it.
So yes: Pixeljunk, Inc. features procedurally generated stages. It has a free-roaming, Metroidvania feel. It has total terrain deformation. It employs highly stylized (and highly colorful) art. It throws in resource gathering, permanent death, base-building, and tower defense. And yes, it's a four-player cooperative Steam game.
And it's great! It includes just the right amount of weird -- the visual style reminds me of a boxier Bonanza Bros., for some reason, and your mission is to explore other planets in order to create new kinds of soup -- and just the right amount of compulsive gotta-play-it addictiveness.
Actually, it boils every genre it incorporates down to its most addictive elements. The resource-gathering alternates between automatic and manual, so you need to drag some precious soup elements over to your factory. The money you earn making soup unlocks bigger factories and various automation tools. As your factory grows, the wild creatures around the factory make more adventurous forays into your business and wreck things up, requiring the establishment of a defensive perimeter. And the terrain formation is impressive -- I managed to crush my poor protagonist by digging all the way through the ground and removing all support for the rock formations above me, which promptly crash. Later, I ended the demo by digging beneath a lake and draining it by emptying most of its mass into a reservoir.
It's a go-anywhere, do anything kind of game. And while it offers some ways to work around failure by allowing you to earn extra lives, you can also do it Dwarf Fortress style and enable a hardcore permadeath setting so that one screwup means game over.
While Pixeljunk, Inc. reminds me of a lot of other games in various ways, it also seems very much like something totally its own. And something I can't play to play in earnest. It'll be a while, though; the demo at PAX is pre-alpha, and the designer admits he doesn't quite know what the game's win state will be....