PSN Review: Pixeljunk Shooter 2



Someone should put Q-Games in charge of our schools’ science departments; playing around with physics and the elements is rarely as fun as in Pixeljunk Shooter 2.

Picking up directly after the first game, the light story for Pixeljunk Shooter 2 sees you, a large chunk of mining system and everyone working therein swallowed by a humongous worm-like monster. Using your one-man flying craft, you’ll have to navigate the labyrinthine digestive system of the giant creature, rescue whoever you can and hopefully get to safety. Your journey won’t be easy, though, as along with dodging and destroying the variety of micro-organisms looking to obliterate you, you’ll have to contend with the volatile innards of the creature – a landscape rife with dangers from acid-spewing orifices to deadly lava pools.
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The game puts its fun dynamic fluid effects at the centre of the game as exploration and puzzles are largely designed around the way in which various elements interact with each other. Your goal in each level is to collect every survivor dotted around and make your way to the exit. Making a path through rock foundation is easily handled with a few well-placed bullets, but what if you want to get through that passage hidden under that pool of lava? You’ll have to find a way to reroute one of the nearby water reserves, cooling the lava and allowing you to shoot through the hardened rock that forms. Lava melts ice and ignites flammable gases, water hardens lava and dispels acid, and so on, all of which ties into the game’s clever and intuitive obstacle-beating puzzles. Throw in magnetic fluids, water balloon plant pods and lava bombs that you can toss around, and there’s plenty of inventive physics-based joy to be had. The physics on display are gorgeously fluid and realistic, and toying around with water and lava is far more fun than it should be as a result.

To aid you in your quest to escape the monster’s innards undigested, your craft is equipped with an extending claw which fires out to grab nearby survivors, collectible gems or any other objects that you can interact with throughout the game, from levers to useful plant pods. The ship’s swift, graceful controls, which are a breezy joy to play with, are handled much like any twin-stick shooter and comes with the obligatory weaponry: a gun that fires a small shot with each single press of the trigger, or a barrage of destructive missiles when holding the trigger down. In lieu of a health meter, your life is gauged by your ship’s temperature; get too close to lava for too long and the craft’s navigation system will shut down, sending you crashing to your doom. Your pod will quickly overheat while firing rockets, too, meaning they’re best kept a special occasion party trick used only when necessary. Handily, you can speedily swoop into the water pools dotted around (or fortuitously just land in one as your ship plummets to the ground) to cool yourself off before it’s too late.
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To add more diversity to the puzzling fun, your ship can dock into various suits dotted around the levels, which grant you handy extra abilities. Suits from the first game make reappearances, but a couple of new additions add both new tricks and an added variety to the gameplay. The environment-chomping Hungry Suit travels only on a horizontal or vertical path, but chews through tough terrain that your weapons can’t penetrate. The Dig Dug-style Hungry Suit sections require you to chew paths under boulders to send them falling onto enemies, unblocking the path to survivors, and bring a welcome change of pace to the puzzling fun. The sequel’s wider source of gaming inspiration and its action-orientated tone hit full speed with a tough-as-nails ‘bullet hell’ boss fight, before the Light Suit is introduced.

During the final episode, the levels are mostly shrouded in darkness – darkness which hides a multitude of carnivorous critters that latch onto your ship, only removable by shaking them off in the light. You’re left with the task of figuring out how to navigate the dark and light new areas to reach survivors that your grapple hook will only snatch when they’re illuminated. Sometimes it’s as easy as shooting through walls to send beams of light cascading in, while other situations demand the use of glowing plants which light up only when doused in lava or glowing plant pods which shrink and dim with each bump against walls, but the Light Suit gives you the benefit of a torch to light your path a short distance.
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The variety is welcome, especially for those who played through the first game and require a little something new, but though the Light Suit sections provide the biggest addition, the action-heavy slant in them sometimes feel at odds with the more intelligent puzzles and gentle pace of the rest of the game. The darkened levels are often less focused on creative puzzling and more a panicked, bullet-spraying dash for the light as enemies swarm from all directions. It’s certainly tense, but often frustratingly unfair. Huge Boo-like Phantoms randomly appear around and behind you, only vulnerable to bullets and rockets when directly illuminated by your torch, and even then taking a massive amount of damage to finally kill. The random and crowded spawning of massive Phantoms while you’re trying to accomplish other things in dark, enclosed spaces proves maddening, and often it can be impossible to kill them in time to free a path and escape before they either hit you or your ship overheats. The more action-centric feel can be infuriatingly unbalanced and steers too far from the physics-based puzzles and exploration that proves so incredibly fun and inventive in the rest of the game.

Even so, while the ratio of puzzles to action in the last few levels feels frustratingly unbalanced, the rest of the game is rife with a plethora of abilities, environments and elemental puzzling that’s as fun and cleverly-handled as anything in the first game. Those fearing that Pixeljunk Shooter 2 would little more than a short expansion pack of a sequel can set those worries aside: The single player game is an incredibly lengthy one, with three episodes, each broken down into four or five levels, each level comprising of a few stages. There’s a massive amount of playtime to be found here, and Pixeljunk Shooter 2 is a substantial, rewarding sequel even before you factor in the added bonuses.
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Replay value is inherent in the game’s collectibles, with hidden special survivors and extra gems tucked away around the levels (though the more frustrating Light Suit levels tend to discourage any desire to try exploring them again) and high scores tallied on global leaderboards. An entertaining multiplayer battle mode is great fun, too, with some ingenious ideas on display (you can buy a variety of weapon upgrades for your ship with points you earn, but you can also collect stray points while flying around in the background of the network match-up screen, making load times oddly rewarding).

Ultimately Q-Games’ choice to adopt a more action-oriented feel for their sequel often proves frustrating and doesn’t gel as well with the puzzle-based exploration that the game handles so perfectly. Even so, it’s a small flaw in the face of the creative ‘fun with physics’ gameplay that populates the rest of the game. The multitude of changes and added abilities, coupled with a lengthy, varied campaign and a fun multiplayer mode make Pixeljunk Shooter 2 a plentiful, worthwhile and incredibly fun sequel that is sure to please fans of the original and newcomers alike.

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Pixeljunk Shooter 2 is available to buy exclusively on the PlayStation Network Store now.