PixelJunk Shooter 2 Review: Delve Deeper with this Sequel

PixelJunk Shooter 2 is the latest downloadable PlayStation Network game from Q-Games. This multidirectional shooter is a sequel to the first game, which was one of my favorites of 2009. Shooter 2 was promising, touting new game mechanics and a continuation of the simple storyline they’d started in the first game. But could it live up to the long wait, and fill the shoes as the first official PixelJunk sequel?

Platforms: PS3
Publisher: Sony
Developer: Q-Games
Genre: Multidirectional Twin-Stick Reflex Tester
Release Date: March 1, 2011
ESRB Rating: Everyone

PixelJunk Shooter 2 begins right where the first game ends – “In the Belly of the Beast,” as the first episode is so affectionately titled. You defeated the final boss in Shooter, and were eaten by a giant monster, which is burrowing into the crust of the planet. Now, you’ve got to fight your way through the inside of the monster, still rescuing survivors from the first game, while trying to make your way back to the surface of the planet. There are 15 stages total, three episodes with five stages, with the final stage of each culminating in a boss battle.

The main thing I noticed right away was that the sequel requires far more precision than the original. Not that the original was imprecise – on the contrary, the first game has some tricky moments that necessitate some fancy controller work. But the sequel demands not just constant precision, but also far more attention. On more than one occasion, I thought I’d finished with all the bad guys, so I let my guard down and bam! I’d get killed right by the final gate. I learned my lesson quickly, but Q-Games has really ramped up the difficulty in this game in a way that’s satisfying and challenging – it definitely tickled my 8- and 16-bit sentiments repeatedly.

All the core mechanics are still there – you can shoot with your regular weapon or use missiles, you can spin to collect coins and get through some of the softer materials in your way, and you still use elements in your environment to solve puzzles. But now, you’ve got more options at your disposal – the spin up now has a super spin with R3, which can kill enemies or deflect projectiles if timed correctly. There are more elements now – instead of just water, magma, oil, and gas, you’ve also got stomach acid, gas from the acid, mechanics involving light and dark, and a material that’s… well… edible.

The edible part comes with the new suits you can apply to your ship. There are the same four from the first game – water, magma, inverter, and the anti-magnet suit. The two new suits are the hungry suit – which allows you to eat through certain elements, and also gives you the ability to maneuver blocks around – and the light suit, which lights up dark areas that are filled with frightening eyeballs that will kill you if you are in the dark for too long. It’s an interesting twist on the scientific and elemental-based game that it brought in this light/dark concept and filled it with spooky, intangible enemies.

Speaking of enemies, there are some new faces here as well. In the first episode, there are some jellyfish-like monsters that explode into water, and the third episode has some very cool foes that shoot light and light up when they fly. The baddest of the new baddies, however, are the ones that shoot sharp metal objects that look like shurikens at you. Later versions of this foe shoot projectiles that bounce around the screen. There are also new combo bonuses for defeating several enemies in a row, leaving the screen littered with coins and extra lives. The boss battles, found at the end of the fifth stage of each of the three episodes, are especially challenging, and the second one in particular had me impressed and frustrated at the same time. Spoiler alert: fighting against this boss has you transitioning between regular multidirectional shooting and shooting like that found in Space Invaders, where you can only face one direction. It was a lot of fun but very difficult with what they throw at you.

The power-ups are still the same – well, it’s really just the shield, which protects you from overheating when near magma or oil, but dissipates if you get hit by them or by acid or enemy fire or an enemy. The stomach acid is corrosive, and will remain on the ship until washed off in water. The screen gets tinted purple, and you’ll get a counter over your head once you’re down to five seconds. Also, if you fall into water while your ship is on fire or at the maximum overheating point, you’ll cool down immediately. If you’re wearing the inverter suit, water becomes deadly and you can navigate through magma instead; with the anti-magnet suit, you can navigate through the oil, which is repelled.

There are more special survivors than before, many of which are cleverly hidden. These special survivors have unique suits and wave a flag. They each have names, and you get a bubble of text from them when you rescue them. Unlike the first game, I had a difficult time finding some of the special areas, which I usually stumbled upon by accident. These have coins, gems, and occasionally special survivors.

As before, there’s a local cooperative mode, which allows you to play the game with a friend. New to the sequel is the online multiplayer, which is intensely fun. Playing gives you points, which can be used to unlock new items – there are weapons, power ups, disruptors, and hazards. For example, one of the disruptors can mess with your enemy’s navigation system – so down is now up for them, and they have to readjust to the new controls quickly – and one of the hazards changes all water on the level to magma. Starting off as a rookie can be rough when your enemies already have several of these things unlocked and you’re just getting your feet wet (or burned, if they’re chucking balls of magma at you right out of the gate).

In online mode, one player is on defense and one is on offense. The player on defense has to defeat their opponent and then snag the ship icon that shows up when they die. The player on offense has to collect as many survivors as they can and drop them off at their base. You can steal survivors from the defending player – if you can sneak in and out without getting killed, that is. I was only able to get into a handful of games – I waited for the matchmaking to find me an opponent longer than I actually got to see any action. There’s a cute little minigame on the waiting screen, though, so I had fun bouncing around and collecting points there.

As always, the music is phenomenal. Q-Games brought in High Frequency Bandwidth again to make another dynamic soundtrack, and they went above and beyond the beats they recorded for the first game. The last episode especially had incredible music, and there were times when I’d be done playing and start doing something else and want to leave the game on anyway just for the music. Props to High Frequency Bandwidth for again adding to an already fantastic experience.

PixelJunk Shooter 2 is a must-have for any PlayStation 3 owner. The first game was one of the best downloadable games made for the system, and the sequel has proven to go above and beyond in gameplay mechanics, storyline, and overall package. It’s like they took every awesome aspect of the first game, improved on it, added as much as they could, and then delivered it to us with a nice little bow. It would be nice to have more success getting into an online game, but seeing as I enjoyed the first game without an online component, I still walked away feeling satisfied, challenged, and ready for more.

Review Disclosure: A retail copy of PixelJunk Shooter 2 was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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