PixelJunk Shooter 2 Review

By Jordan Douglas on March 14, 2011

The PixelJunk series has made a name for itself on PlayStation Network by delivering consistently inventive, aesthetically pleasing experiences. Thanks to the efforts of Q-Games, every iteration - with the debatable exception of Racers - from Monsters to Eden, and most recently, Shooter has been praised for introducing a fresh take on established genre conventions, or for carving out new ones.

2009's PixelJunk Shooter brought dynamic elemental reactions to the twin-stick shooter genre, creating unique, puzzle solving scenarios and a general sense of wonderment. Apparently, Q had so many ideas left over from Shooter's development that a full sequel was the only logical step forward. The end result, PixelJunk Shooter 2, builds on its predecessor's foundations in almost every way - introducing new substances, enhanced multiplayer options, and an additional dose of complexity. Yet again, Q delivers a solid package, but one that occasionally suffers from the compulsion to increase difficulty - an issue most developers seem to have - wherein some frustrating design choices rise to the surface.

PixelJunk Shooter 2 picks up right where the last game left off. Your all-purpose, rescue submarine has been swallowed whole by a gigantic beast, and it's now your job to escape the perilous environment alive, picking up trapped miners along the way. The plot isn't remotely deep, in sharp contrast to the setting, but does serve as an excellent platform to experiment with extraterrestrial substances that react in unpredictable ways.

Shooter's hook was always the ability to combine various elements and see their reactions, and in this way the sequel really shines. As mentioned above, Q uses foreign settings effectively to introduce new ideas, such as bodily fluids, acids and a completely new darkness mechanic. The game really sells its environment well - for example, the living levels ebb and flow with the beast's movements. While this presents intriguing situations, the natural puzzle solving intuition everyone possesses when dealing with common elements - water, lava, earth, etc. - is diminished. In addition, a light vs. dark mechanic can be the difference between live and death in the later stages. Simply put, venturing into the darkness for too long will cause an untimely death. These inventive concepts help Shooter 2's tested formula feel fresh.

Shooter 2 also tasks itself with outdoing its predecessor in terms of complexity and difficulty, with varying results. It's only natural for a direct sequel to ramp up its difficulty curve, and while Shooter 2 isn't overly punishing, it can lead to frustration. Infrequent check points and surprise enemy encounters will routinely force you to replay a level from the start, which hampers the initial awe associated with discovery and experimentation. This problem was also present in PixelJunk Eden, to an even more extreme degree. Q's work is at its best when players can take the time to appreciate the craftsmanship behind each world.

Campaign difficulty is easily mitigated through multiplayer. In this case, by playing co-operatively with a friend, as having an extra weapon and life line never hurt anyone. Co-op and multiplayer was, to an extent, in the first game, but this time there's much more on the table. The biggest offering being online head-to-head battles that pits two opposing players in attack and defend mode - one having to rescue miners, and the other to stop them. It's an interesting addition that will definitely add replay value to Shooter 2, largely depending on how deep you want to delve into the various unlockables.

Shooter 2 again boasts strong visual and audio presentation. While there isn't a drastic change from the previous game, the formula is far from broken. Environments are colorful and varied, fluids interact with incredible realism, and the audio design is fantastic. Electronica-inspired tracks will stick with you for a while, and subtle audio cues hint at what danger is lurking in the shadows.

Final Thoughts

PixelJunk Shooter 2 is another great offering from Q-Games, and a worthy successor to Shooter. It builds on solid foundations, adding depth, variety and complexity to the elemental mechanics and multiplayer options, with mostly positive results. The only meaningful downside being that the increased difficulty changes the game's tone, from relaxing and exploratory to demanding your constant attention to survive. Shooter's been an enjoyable ride for the PixelJunk series, leaving me extremely curious to see where they go next.

A rich, engaging puzzle experience.
A deeper co-operative and multiplayer mode.
Still retains the series' great level design and presentation.
Difficulty curve can occasionally become frustrating.
Infrequent checkpoints means often restarting from the start of a level.
Difficulty changes the relaxing tone the first game had.
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