Pixeljunk Shooter’s fluid dynamics were something to behold. Focusing a game not just on how liquid flows, but also on how different substances interact with each other is an interesting concept, but the game spent so long introducing each liquid that it only achieved a reasonable level of difficulty near the end, right before the obvious cliffhanger ending. Q-Games are giving the series another shot with Shooter 2. Have they made things more challenging or is this just another pretty fluid playground (that sounded less dirty in my head I swear).
For those of you that didn’t play the first game, Pixeljunk Shooter 2 is a twin stick shooter in which you explore different stages looking for survivors. A mining operation on a remote planet has sent out a distress signal and you’re the first on the scene. After a long trek to the center of the planet you defeat the final boss robot only to be quickly devoured by a giant worm, and so the tale starts with Pixeljunk Shooter 2. Sure, you may be working through the digestive track of a creature the size of a small state, but there are still survivors around and your mission remains the same.
This is a great excuse to introduce some new elements to the gameplay right from the starting point. Traveling through the depths of the beast you’ll come across two new materials in several different forms. The first fluid is an acid that sticks to your ship and eats away at it until you are able to wash it off with water. There are also purple bubbles that float around and disorient your ship as you fly through them, but these cause no direct damage. The second material consists of rather disgusting larva eggs that multiply unless you destroy every single one. Put water on the eggs and they hatch into little gnats which send your missiles veering off their intended path.
A new suit is also available in these stages called the Hungry Suit. The Hungry Suit is the more interesting of the two new suits because it completely changes the control scheme of the game. Rather than analog controls, the Hungry Suit can only move in one of the four cardinal directions and chomps through rock that is unbreakable by rocket alone. You have to be careful when you use this suit though, because you have absolutely no weapons to help you get rid of enemies, so your only possible recourse against enemies is to avoid them or drop a boulder on them. This changes the gameplay from your regular twin stick shooter to something much more akin to Dig Dug in which you try to dig out the survivors without accidentally dropping boulders on them. These sections aren’t exactly brain busters but they add a nice new element of variety.
Once you work your way through the giant worm you come across the second (and sadly most disappointing) set of stages, which use only the fluids and materials set up in the first Pixeljunk Shooter for the most part. It was kind of disappointing after working through something as new and different in aesthetic and gameplay as the first world to come to something that felt all too familiar. There were some new elements to these stages, like enemies that were a bit more prolific in their projectile output. This world was also capped off by the most interesting boss fight in the game, with multiple stages and some interesting changes to the controls mid-boss that made it into an ode to shooters gone by, but even with those high points the second world was still disappointing.
Luckily the third world gets right back into the swing of things by focusing on light and dark. When your ship is in the dark you can only see outlines of things near you, and you aren’t able to grapple onto items or survivors. However, there are worse things lurking in the darkness...
The second you venture out of the light you’ll notice about 10-20 creepy red eyes opening up around the screen and if you stay in the dark too long they’ll charge at you and start eating away at your health until you explode. Light sources act as you would expect, with variable ranges, and any object that gets in their way will block the light. These levels are a reminder of what makes the series great because it’s all about exploring levels looking for ways to manipulate the environment to get light where you need it.
Light is also used to create some extremely dangerous combat situations, for example where you are thrown into complete darkness and the only light sources are the bullets of your enemies, so you have to actually try to stay close to the incoming fire without letting it destroy you.
There’s a new suit included with these stages called the light suit, which turns your ship into a mini-flashlight. Since you produce your own light and will never be in the darkness, these levels include some new enemies that come of the darkness regardless of whether or not you’re in the light.
Overall I think the gameplay in Shooter 2 is slightly improved, but is marred by the second world losing its sense of exploration. The Pixeljunk Shooter series is all about discovering new materials and the interaction between them, so playing through an entire set of stages based solely on materials from the first game is kind of dull. Luckily, some new elements and fun bosses make the game more difficulty than the first, and even when playing with a partner there were a number of stages that took multiple attempts.
Online competitive multiplayer is easily the biggest gameplay addition to Pixeljunk Shooter 2. The matches are one on one, with one person attempting to find as many survivors as possible and bring them to his base, while the 2nd ship tries to find the other person’s ship and destroy it to end their turn. After that the two players switch roles and start the second half of the round. There are two rounds to each match and the person with the most survivors at the end wins. Once you get past the initial confusion and adapt yourself to the stages and gameplay these matches can be some of the tensest online gaming I’ve played. This is probably because everything is always down to you, and the need to try and hide from the other player while you are trying to capture survivors can be nerve wracking. The format of the matches also allows for some truly infuriating tactics, like stealing your opponent’s survivors from his base while he tries like mad to destroy you.
Winning matches online gives you points to advance in the leagues, but it also gives you money to spend on items you can use during the match. You can choose up to three items/abilities to take with you into a match after the stage has been selected and these range from the more mundane like a heat-seeking missile and a sonar ability, to the insanely powerful like switching all the magma to water and vice versa, or turning back time for yourself and your opponent to fix a mistake. The only issue with these item based matches is that when you first start out it can be pretty tough to win anything. It seems like the game tries to set you against someone of at least comparable experience, but every once in a while the deck would be hugely stacked for or against me.
Presentation in Pixeljunk Shooter 2 is similar to the first game. There are some cool new environments, like the undulating walls inside the belly of the beast, but it’s still that same half cartoon style that one would expect. The fluid physics are still impressive, and help add a bit of randomness to the game on and offline. Music is just as soothing and as nice to listen to as the first game, with the same band making a return to the series.
Value was Pixeljunk Shooter’s biggest flaw, but luckily the sequel does a lot to try and fix that. The Adventure Mode took me 5 hours to play through with a buddy of mine, and that was without finding all of the treasure, which will unlock a final stage that plays like a more traditional shooter and gives you a glimpse of why there probably won’t be a Pixeljunk Shooter 3. You also get the online multiplayer, which you can play with matchmaking or against friends.
Pixeljunk Shooter 2 might have made a big misstep on the second set of stages, but I can still quite confidently recommend it to anyone looking for another great PSN title to add to their collection. The new elements are fun to play around with and the online multiplayer will be the cause of quite a few broken controllers and high pitched screaming. Once again, I find myself more than looking forward to the next game in the Pixeljunk series, whatever it may be.