Since the PS3 launched, Q-Games has been hammering away at the PlayStation Network with their PixelJunk series. These retro-styled 2D games have been a big hit with fans, and offer a delightful mix of art and gameplay. 2009's "Pixeljunk Shooter" was the best of the bunch, blending exploration, fluid dynamics and mind-bending puzzles. Unfortunately, the game was over after just a few hours. But cheer up! "Pixeljunk Shooter 2" releases this week and manages to trump its predecessor in just about every way.
At the end of the original "Shooter," your tiny rescue vessel was swallowed up by a giant underground worm creature. Bummer. "Shooter 2" picks up right where that game left off, with you inside a giant underground worm creature. Your objective? Escape and return to the surface. Like the original game, "Shooter 2" uses fluid dynamics for puzzles, allowing you to douse lava with water or blast away at rock. The sequel introduces new substances, as well.
In addition to the main story, "Shooter 2" adds a new multiplayer mode for two players online. This mode plays like Capture the Flag, as you try to rescue miners scattered throughout the map and drop them back at your home base. Meanwhile, the other player is doing their darndest to stop you.
Once More Into The Goo
The campaign in "Shooter 2" is just as mentally taxing as the original, requiring that you manipulate the elements in the environment in thoughtful ways. New elements, like constantly multiplying eggs which explode into annoying insects, take different strategies to tackle. Later on in the game, you'll have to deal with light and dark, using lava and hanging lamps as portable light sources. Basically if you enjoyed the puzzles of the original game, "Shooter 2" feels even sharper.
Of special note is the effort Q-Games put into their boss fights. There are only three in the game, but they are doozies nonetheless, with multiple stages and gameplay styles mixed throughout.
It's sad to think that most people will probably never play the multiplayer mode Q-Games added for "Shooter 2," as it's tremendously fun and addictive. Players can unlock different power-ups, like homing rockets and disrupters which mess up the other player's controls. The game becomes a devious back-and-forth as you attempt to secure scientists scattered throughout the map while defending your stockpile from the other player. As you play more, you'll earn currency to unlock new power-ups. You'll also rank up, earning more money and unlocking up to 10 multiplayer maps.
My only complaint is that customization currency can only be earned in league games, so if you're playing with your friends, you won't be progressing your character. I suppose that's an issue with other multiplayer games, but the game is a bit less joyful with strangers.
High Frequency Bandwith, a UK-based electronic duo, returns to handle the soundtrack for "Shooter 2" as they did in the original. It's extremely rare that I'll listen to a game's soundtrack outside of the game itself, but the one in "Shooter 2" is so good, I often found myself leaving the game running in the background, just so I could have something to groove to. It's a down-tempo mix of jazz and electronica, all fitting perfectly with the events on screen.
Same Ol' Shooter
While it has all the high production values of previous PixelJunk games, "Shooter 2" ends up feeling more like an expansion pack to the original than it does its own game. Don't get me wrong, it's a tremendously enjoyable expansion pack, but it feels familiar enough that folks who didn't enjoy the first game should avoid this one like the plague.
The Hunger Suit
There are a few special suits in "Shooter 2," and the Hunger Suit is one that should've been cut entirely. When activated, the Hunger Suit basically turns your ship into Pac-Man, allowing you gobble up rock. Unfortunately this also means that you're only able to move in four directions. The Hunger Suit levels (there are four or five of them in total) feel like a chore to slog through and feature block-pushing puzzles, which are rarely a good idea.
If you played and enjoyed the first game, "PixelJunk Shooter 2" is an easy recommendation to make. Newcomers should probably pick up the original first, but everyone else should definitely give "Shooter 2" a shot, as it's easily one of the most enjoyable games available on the PlayStation Network today.