PixelJunk Monsters takes a hi-def stab at a micro-genre that's been around since WarCraft III. The original player-made map-mods pit players against wave after wave of incoming baddies. The idea was to weather the siege and protect your base by slowly upgrading and bolstering your defenses. Since then, a slew of Flash-based games have expanded on the idea. Last year's Desktop Tower Defense rose above the fray as the most addictive. In spite of a crowded field, PixelJunk Monsters covers new ground by putting players in the midst of the carnage. Catapults and cannons are built at ground level rather than dropped from the heavens by an omniscient god.
Players control a dancing turtle-man who converts the forest surrounding his home into a wide array of defensive weaponry. The cash to build these structures comes from coins that scatter across the battlefield every time an enemy bites the dust. This wrinkle is what makes PixelJunk Monsters worth playing: Invasion becomes a frantic dance, with players dashing from position to position, risking death to collect coins as the incoming hordes bear down on hearth and home. Allowing even one of the jerks to slip by is a bummer. Every time barbarians break the line, they smite one of your cowering offspring, whittling down your will to fight.
PixelJunk Monsters starts off throwing softballs, but the difficulty ramps up quickly. Some challenges ask players to leave no child behind. Others only offer four trees to transform into weapons, or limit the amount of money your lone defender can spend. The game's odds seem daunting, but throwing in the towel never seems like an option. It's always "One more try."
Beyond the game: The PixelJunk series is Dylan Cuthbert and Q-Games' effort to bring offbeat, inexpensive downloads to the PlayStation 3. Cuthbert's Blasto, for the original PlayStation, featured voicework from the late, great Phil Hartman.
Worth playing for: PixelJunk Monsters has a deceptively lo-fi vibe, but its cartoon creatures and setting look crisp and sensuous on a high-definition screen. The shimmering, ambient soundtrack is lovely as well.
Frustration sets in when: Banging your head against a particularly hairy onslaught can be soul-crushing. Better to go back to the easier attacks and earn the rainbow rewards for slaying every one of the swarming creeps.
Final judgment: Homeland security that doesn't suck.