Review: PixelJunk Shooter 2
PixelJunk Shooter 2 is the sequel to PixelJunk Shooter and the latest entry in the rather popular PixelJunk series. This puzzle title has rewarding game play that doesn’t deviate very much from that of its older incarnation, and that is most definitely a compliment.
Players take control of a tiny space craft which aims to rescue all of the stranded human workers and then return to earth, before they are obliterated by any of many different aliens, machines and environmental hazards. What starts out as a very simple, easy to grasp concept eventually becomes so painstaking, so challenging and so addictive that it can only be called brilliant.
The premise is pretty straightforward. Mankind has wound up deep underground within the body of some ungodly beast as a result of their endless prodding, poking and digging. This place is a dangerous wasteland, filled with enemies and traps. You are the pilot of an advanced aircraft and are tasked with getting all the surviving humans back to Earth.
The game is composed of multiple different chapters, which themselves are composed of different stages. It is implied that this game picks up where the last game left off, or at chapter four. From what I can tell, what little there is of the story is not often explored, so is not a big part of the game. Game-play takes the driver’s seat in this one, and although a deeper more relevant narrative would have been nicer, this isn’t really to be expected and also, it isn’t the main attraction.
Playing the game at first is deceptively easy, but layers of challenge are stripped back as you progress through it. The controls are simple, as in all great puzzlers. Move and aim with the left and right sticks, shoot with R1 and grab with L1. Holding R1 will fire off many rockets in quick succession, although it will cause your ship to quickly overheat.
Quickly rotating the left stick will unleash a barrel roll, which destroys enemies it touches and reflects some projectiles. Clicking the left stick during a barrel roll will allow you to perform a quick charging attack, which can defeat several enemies and gives you a short boost of speed, which can be used to get out of tight spots easily or solve some puzzles. This is practically it.
Your goal in every stage is to collect all of the humans and then proceed. This is easy at first, as all you must do is survive. Your ship can be destroyed numerous ways, but all destruction is caused by overheating. Your ship’s heat is monitored by a meter at the bottom of the screen. Getting hit by enemy attacks, coming near or touching magma and holding the shoot button for too long are just a few ways to quickly find yourself restarting a stage.
Getting your ship destroyed only restarts the room you are in. You can also lose to the extent where you must restart the stage though. You are given five lives at the beginning of each stage. If a human gets destroyed, be it by you, an enemy, or any other harmful hazard in the environment, you will lose a life.
The workers are quite fragile too. If the magma enemy fires a beam to hit you but misses and instead hits the human, they will die and you will lose a life. Lose all your lives and you face a game over, where you must restart the entire stage.
This only happened to me one time, because they try to keep you from having to restart the stage. You constantly collect points from doing things: killing enemies, solving puzzles, etc. will give you points. Collect one hundred of them and you get an extra life. The puzzles go from pretty easy to exceedingly complicated. The difficulty is usually turned up with the introduction of some new tool or element, which also makes the game more fun.
Let’s take water for an example. Water instantly cools the ship down from any heat, and can be used for neat tricks like an infinite barrage of rapid-fire missiles. Water also cools magma into rock which you can blast away. It also creates steam when it touches molten metal. These are just some of the intuitive ways in which puzzles are created, and things get much nastier when these elements are stacked on top of each other. Like in the stages where you can’t go into darkness and have to avoid getting burned by magma, all while discovering and rescuing the workers.
I absolutely applaud the depth of game play seen in the later stages of the game, because it is nail bitingly challenging. Progressing through the game requires more than just finishing the stages mind you. You also have to collect a certain number of diamonds to proceed past locked checkpoints. These diamonds are found as you play through the game, but collecting them is challenging because only a few of them are in plain sight. You’ll have to look thoroughly through each and every square inch of a level to collect all the treasure there, and this can be frustrating. At the end of each stage they tell you how many diamonds are in the stage.
What can be really irritating is when you’ve finished all the stages in a chapter but don’t have enough diamonds to move on. This means you must go back through each stage and collect the diamonds you missed, and you have to do this until you have enough to pass the checkpoint. This happened to me a few times. On one hand this is a great way to make sure players don’t rush through the game or the stages, but on the other hand it may force you to replay a stage where you wanted to see the next stage. Sure it adds a touch of replay value but you shouldn’t have to master a game just to see the ending.
This challenge seems artificial and I don’t like that they forced you to collect all the treasure to proceed, rather than enthused you to do this with rewards of some kind. This is really my only big gripe with the game.
The boss enemies are pretty challenging, even though there is only a small number of them and you only see them three or four times throughout the duration of the game. One fire/turtle/robot enemy gave me such a hard time, it took me over thirty minutes to fell it. In this organic, kind of flowing challenge lies another one of PJS2‘s big merits. The game is genuinely challenging. It has a number of cheap death sequences, but for the most part your failure is your own fault. Restarting a game twenty or thirty times brings me back to my childhood, when I would spend hours trying to beat one short segment of a game.
The music in this game is undeniably good. It eschews the chip-tune or bubbly 8-bit soundtrack that it could obviously have made good use of, in favor of a more modern, urban sound. The music is contributed by the electronic/trip hop act High Frequency Bandwidth, and although it doesn’t seem like much of what you hear matches the game, things stay upbeat and easy to listen to. You can clearly hear many of the hip hop influences at sporadic moments in the game, like when you finish a stage. Even though the sample is short, it is enjoyable and multi-layered. The soundtrack is good, even though it doesn’t seem to really fit the game that well.
The visuals are underwhelming and practically identical to those in the last game. While you aren’t exactly expecting Unreal Engine visuals, things sometime seem a little too uninspired or bland. A small color palette of brown, gray, and tan seem to make up most of the environments, and while they are certainly designed quite diversely, most of them look the same. The cell-shading on most of the enemies and environments is well done and pleasant to look at, if a little boring.
As you make your way through the game, you’ll want to keep your eyes open for hidden things. There are hidden areas, which can be pretty hard to find because of the wonderfully well concealed hiding places the developers chose for them. Within these hiding places you can find points and diamonds. Another thing that is usually hiding out of sight are the researchers. These special, colored workers give you a small bit of story in exchange for finding them and they are collected in the gallery. Although they mainly serve a kind of progression or collection purpose, it is interesting to hear their various opinions on the events taking place.
There is a satisfying number of enemies in the game. All of them pose various threats and require you to think in a different way. The magma enemy shoots out beams of hot lava and also creates a lava explosion when you defeat it. One of the turret enemies has homing attacks that you must destroy quickly or they will hit you and they get particularly nasty when combined with the darkness hazard. The enemy variety is great and this allows the game to keep you guessing and keep you on your toes. Multiple enemies pose multiple threats and you have to think pretty quickly to keep from getting defeated.
The online play is fast, furious and challenging. Players go head to head in a versus mode which takes quick wits and fingertips. It’s creative how the rules of the game are used to make a multi-player mode. You and your opponent take turns going on the offensive and defensive. On offensive, you can find and capture workers to raise your score and while on defense your goal is to find your opponent and defeat them to gain score.
Before each match, you are allowed to pick from various weapons and gadgets for use against your enemy, giving the game a sort of party feeling. You have to purchase the good items with the points earned from playing online. You’ll get the hang of the rules after a few matches and you will probably lose a few until you get your bearings. It is pretty fun if you hang in there though and you’ll get better with experience.
Unfortunately, it didn’t seem possible to play the versus mode locally, although local co-op is available. Experience the same controller smashing difficulty you’ll find in single-player with two people in the local multi-player. It’s an exciting venture, which is only possible if you and your partner are dedicated to beating the game. If you aren’t vigilant, you may find yourselves getting frustrated with one another on any of your multiple retries. This is to be expected, but if you are both willing meet the challenge and beat the game, then you will feel quite rewarded for enduring.
To scale the challenge, you have the same amount of lives as if you were playing on one player, so be prepared for that. It seemed to make things much harder. I’d say the local multi-player is only really enjoyable if you and your partner are up for one serious challenge. If not, then only frustration lies before you. I like the aspect of the two-player because it’s take it or leave it and that is a good thing for people who don’t have someone else to play with them. Just imagine one player, with two ships instead of one and someone else controlling the other one.
All things considered, Pixel Junk Shooter 2 is a pretty satisfying puzzle game. It has deep game play which gets more challenging the more you play, local and online multi-player, unlockables and plenty of content and replay value. The formula is executed very well. While there isn’t an astounding amount of content here, what is here is pretty awesome. Like a sport with finely tuned rules, is fun to play repeatedly and to no end. If you enjoy the first ten minutes, then you will probably enjoy the next dozen or so hours and if it doesn’t capture you by then, I’m not sure that very much will change that opinion five hours in.
There was almost nothing about the game that I greatly disliked. That being said, this inexpensive download title is worth playing for fans of the genre, hardcore and very serious gamers and more casual players. Simple rules and addictive game-play is all any good puzzle game really needs and PixelJunk Shooter 2 does well to deliver these elements in astonishing quantity.