Who would’ve thought a name like “PixelJunk” would be synonymous with slick albeit simplistic quality? This series has been fantastic for PlayStation Network members as developer Q-Games continues to churn out highly refined and entertaining downloadable experiences. The latest is PixelJunk Shooter 2 , the follow-up to the successful and original mini-shooter that worked like a charm. But speaking of charm, because we’re using basically the same mechanics a second time around (despite several ingenious new ideas), we do lose a bit of that unique PixelJunk charisma. It’s bound to happen with sequels, regardless of the inherent quality. But at the end of the day, if you enjoyed the first title, you’re bound to love the second, which is plenty long enough and a bit more challenging to boot.
Once again, we get those crisp, artistic visuals that make these games so darn attractive. It’s a surprisingly soft, futuristic style that just sort of…oozes. The effects and animations are such that one is often reminded of a gooey chocolate chip cookie baking in the oven; from the gushing, flowing water to the gasses bubbling up all over the place. Even the new dark environments don’t seem all that intimidating; the entire presentation is just too cute to be foreboding. This actually holds an inherent limitation because despite the variety of the locales, it does sort of blend together. But it’s the atmosphere the designers chose and there are almost zero technical hitches. The frame rate never wavers and all the action and animations are silky smooth. There isn’t a tremendous amount of detail, though, so some may see this presentation as a touch bland.
The sound is always a highlight in these titles, because Q-Games routinely utilizes a bunch of original techno/electro pieces to enhance our adventure. Despite a wee bit of repetition, these tracks always seem to fit beautifully into such an eccentric, oddly appealing format. The sound effects are simple and even slight, but crisp and pretty. There’s no voice acting but then again, there doesn’t need to be; in fact, I really think voices would ruin this cool, laid-back experience. In any event, the combination of the effects and the kooky soundtrack makes the audio a definite plus, and perhaps the next step will involve slightly more “impact-ful” effects throughout. This franchise is well known for its original technicals and the latest title doesn’t disappoint.
In this sequel, you again find yourself in command of a microscopic vessel, which is capable of snagging both treasure and those in need of rescuing. The versatile grappling hook will take care of those vital gameplay elements, and the missile can deal with most any invading foe. Holding down the fire button (R1) will unleash a torrent of homing missiles, which is great for eliminating multiple enemies but can also accidentally strike and kill stranded humans. You maneuver about with the left analog and aim with the right analog, and that’s about it. As I said above, this is about the same system we had in the first title so it won’t feel like anything new, but the developers have implemented a few additions to keep us intrigued. They’re not enough to say the game is “new,” but everything still works extremely well, and that's what counts.
This time, you’ll get special suits for your ship that will let you shoot a certain element in place of your normal missile. This is more about puzzle-solving than combat, though, as certain situations will require the mixing of various missiles. I liked this because it builds upon the competent foundation and gives us something new to think about, as does the inclusion of darkness. The latter can pose a big problem because when shrouded, you can’t see any enemies that might attack. But you do have some light-giving resources to deal with this fresh trouble, and other new features include stomach acid that increases your heat meter. If you don’t wash it off in time, you’re done for. And speaking of that stomach acid, that’s part of the story:
You’re trapped in the guts of a giant alien that has swallowed just about everything, including human miners working on the surface of the planet. Your goal is to work your way through the insides of this massive creature, fending off all sorts of nasty body fluids and enemies. Some can end your mission just by touching you, while others will fire ammunition that, if it hits your ship, will up your heat meter. As usual, it’s a tactical mix of shooting and puzzle-solving that forces you to keep an eye on that crucial heat meter; if it maxes out, you blow up and you have to try that section again. I did find some of the later levels a touch annoying because this game seems a lot less forgiving than the last, but I assume many fans of the first won’t mind the amped-up challenge.
It’s the level design, clever institution of various elements, and overall artistry that brings this solid production together. It’s true that you won’t be as continually entranced as you were with the original title, but you will stumble upon new concepts and items that certainly expand upon the established foundation. I still think the difficulty can spike at bizarre times, and it’s still too easy to eradicate those you’re trying to save (primarily because you can’t see their exact location until you’re closer), but those are minor complaints that didn’t cripple my enjoyment. Q-Games worked hard to produce a new environment loaded with innovative boss encounters, new landscape designs, and a great gameplay flow that keeps us playing from start to finish. You may find yourself a little dissuaded at times, but you’ll likely want to return to complete the quest.
PixelJunk Shooter 2 is another rock solid installment in a series that continues to deliver the goods. The multiplayer is plenty fun but again, hasn’t changed much and on the whole, the game just doesn’t hold the same cache. If the original game wore thin after a few hours, the additions to the sequel might not be enough to warrant another purchase. But if you really liked the first, or better yet, if you never even played the debut title, you’ll want to give this one a try. It takes winning ideas and simply builds on them without sacrificing anything essential. There are plenty of huge blockbusters out there that demand your attention but where would we be without our small, quirky diversions?
The Good: Slick, refined visuals. Great music. Super fluid and reliable control. Implementation of new ideas and items is appreciated. Solid level design with cleverly made situations.
The Bad: Seems a little too similar to the first game. Difficulty can be erratic and a tad frustrating. Appeal can wear off too quickly.
The Ugly: “Aaaaah…I was inches away from the &%$&%* exit!!!”