Q-Games' PixelJunk Eden may be the most unforgiving release of 2008. It's highly original, has a beautiful art style and costs less than a fiver - but it's also remarkably hard. Time and time again it will leave your spirits crushed and broken, tears splattering your Sixaxis controller as the game delivers its brutal verdict in large white letters: FAILED.
For those of you who have avoided the building waves of hype, the basic concept here is that you take control of a Grimp - a little chap whose name represents a combination of the words "grip" and "jump". The Grimp lives in a garden called Eden, and it's his lot in life to keep his home well-tended by visiting other gardens and collecting special items known as Spectra; each level of the game requires you to climb a series of sprawling plants and roots until you find this valuable prize.
This may sound like fairly standard platform fare, but in practice PixelJunk Eden is anything but. The first twist is that the Grimp cannot walk, but instead must get around by either jumping or swinging about on a spider-like thread of silk. The player aims himself with the left analogue stick, then hits X: a single tap will send the Grimp flying on the end of his own personal bungee, while a second will cause him to cut the thread, turning the move into a jump. Leaping about lets the Grimp grab onto new platforms, while swinging on the silk allows him to pass through the surrounding scenery. Once mastered, a combination of these techniques will send your little seed-man soaring through the air like a horticultural acrobat.
Exploration is a matter of feeding the circular seed pods which fill each level. Every garden contains floating creatures, stuffed with pollen - and when you smash into them, they burst. Collecting spilled pollen gradually fills the pods until they start to flash; jumping aboard at this point causes a whole new selection of vines and tendrils to sprout, granting further access to the higher parts of the map.
So far so simple - but matters are further complicated by the fact that the Grimp can only visit foreign gardens for a short period of time; in other words, there's a time limit - and a fairly harsh one to boot. While you're busy swinging around and snatching up pollen, you've got to keep half an eye on the slowly-depleting meter in the bottom left corner of the screen. The time bar can be replenished by collecting a specific item, but the most common variety of these will only give you a tiny amount of breathing space. To make matters worse, they don't regenerate: misjudging a leap in the upper hallows of a level can send you plummeting back to the start, but if this happens it is vital to climb back up as quickly as possible since this is the only place you're likely to find more time. Given that you have limited control of the Grimp while he's airborne, these falls will happen with frustrating regularity.
This may all sound a bit negative, but the fact is that PixelJunk Eden has a huge amount going for it. If you've looked at any of the screenshots on this page you'll have noticed the strange-but-wonderful art style, which looks even better in motion. The game also features roughly 100 hours of original music from Japanese DJ Baiyon. Minimal techno may not be everyone's cup of tea, but fans of the genre will be more than happy. It also helps to establish a rather unusual ambiance - something that the game works hard to cultivate. This carries over to the front-end presentation: rather than giving you a traditional series of menus, the game dumps you straight into Eden itself, a playable hub which grows and expands as you progress through each garden.
Kids: If a mysterious seed-man offers to visit your garden... report them to the police, immediately.
In truth, this tactic ends up being something of a double-edged sword. It's a fresh idea, certainly, but it's also somewhat confusing - a criticism that can easily be levelled at the game as a whole. Your first forays into the world of PixelJunk Eden are likely to be bewildering, hair-tugging experiences. The supplied tutorial is really about as useful as a chocolate teapot, so diving straight in is really the only way to start learning the ropes. Unfortunately your PS3 will soon demonstrate that it has no intention of holding your hand - in fact it's more interested in doing the kind of things that are normally reserved for the treatment of fresh-faced boys on their first night in prison.
As mentioned at the start of this review, PixelJunk Eden is the kind of game that repeatedly tries to break your spirit - and your joypad too, if you end up hurling it across the room. However, the key word in that last sentence is "repeatedly". This game will make you swear like a Vietnam veteran - it'll pick you up and grind you down until you feel like a wad of burger meat. But if you can hack it, if you can stick it out until you finally show that sucker who's boss... then, by gum, you'll feel like a champion. Good things come to those who wait.
PixelJunk Eden is far from perfect. It's exhausting, it's cruel and the control system could have done with some tweaking - the lack of in-air mobility really seems unfair. But there are also a lot of things it does right: it's truly original; it's got buckets of style; it allows three players to work together at once. Best of all, it's got a built-in video recorder that helps you film your acrobatics and upload them to YouTube. And for pity's sake, it'll only cost you a measly, snivelling £4.99 - that and a whole load of blood, sweat and tears. You owe it to yourself to at least give it a go.