Game Rant's Jeff Schille reviews PixelJunk Shooter 2
First appearing in December of 2009, the original PixelJunk Shooter promptly became one of the shining jewels of the PlayStation Network lineup. With a post-ending cinematic that showed the game's protagonists swallowed whole by a creature much larger than the boss they had just defeated, the stage was clearly set for a sequel.
Fast forward 15 months, and that sequel has finally arrived. PixelJunk Shooter 2 starts squarely where the first game left off, but is it as much fun as the original? Read on to find out.
The first PixelJunk Shooter combined dual-stick shooting with level navigation, and layered a rock-paper-scissors level of environmental interactions on top: lava melts ice, ice freezes water, water cools lava, lava ignites gas.
The goal of PixelJunk Shooter 2 remains the same as in the original game -- rescue stranded miners and collect hidden gems -- but the environmental interactions and enemies have multiplied in both diversity and complexity.
New kinds of environmental hazards and resources complicate matters, including acid, bubbles, darkness, and light. On top of this, PixelJunk Shooter 2 adopts mechanics from surprising sources, including bullet-hell shooters and Dig Dug.
Player ships have a number of "suits" (new to PJS2 are the Light Suit and the Hungry Suit) that allow them to interact with the environmental elements. Creative use of the suits and careful attention to the layout of the levels (and the order in which in-level goals must be completed) are paramount to success in the game.
A criticism of the first PixelJunk Shooter is that its mechanics changed little over the course of a play-through. That same criticism will not be leveled at Shooter 2, which constantly re-imagines and iterates on its gameplay. Players must adopt unique strategies to defeat most enemies, and thoroughly explore the many ways in which environments can be manipulated.
Along with that diversity comes a substantial boost in difficulty. The opening stages of PixelJunk Shooter 2 are as difficult as the final stages of the first game, and things only get tougher as players make progress. Add in level design that is more puzzle-focused this time around, and the experience often moves from exciting but challenging to patently frustrating.
Ideally, completing a level in PixelJunk Shooter 2 involves saving every lost miner (without accidentally killing any - doing so will ultimately lead to a game over) and finding every hidden gem. Though it can be completed without them, seeing everything PixelJunk Shooter 2 has to offer requires that every miner and gem be found.
The game grants players a generous number of lives, but the amount of trial-and-error exploration, and the subsequent need for near flawless execution of level strategies once they've been discovered, occasionally borders on the ridiculous. Thankfully, PixelJunk Shooter 2 includes the same fantastic co-op mode seen in the first game, which makes things vastly more manageable.
PixelJunk Shooter 2 also boasts a surprisingly robust online multiplayer component in which two players face off against one another, alternately trying to rescue miners or stop their opponent from doing so. Money earned by competing is used to purchase upgrades that make players' ships ever more powerful. The mode is repetitive, but quite a lot of fun -- it's a shame that it can't be played in offline split-screen.
PixelJunk 2 Shooter 2 features the same flat, intentionally simple graphics as the original game, though with a much more diverse set of environments. It's an attractive, unique-looking game that moves extremely well. The High Frequency Bandwidth soundtrack is, as with the first game, fantastic.
PixelJunk Shooter 2 can't really match the breezy freshness of its predecessor. The occasionally strident difficulty saps a lot of the charm from the experience, though the new multiplayer mode goes some distance in making up for it. Still, PixelJunk Shooter 2 is easily worth its $10 price tag, and is recommended for fans of the first game. Players new to the franchise, however, are advised to start with the original PixelJunk Shooter.
PixelJunk Shooter 2 is available now for the PlayStation 3 from the PlayStation Network.
Images courtesy Q-Games