I like PixelJunk games. I like how they’re simple enough that they don’t need to bother with tutorials, yet complex enough to progressively get more challenging. PixelJunk Shooter 2 is the fifth game in the series, but it’s the first sequel. It’s not that the earlier games – Racers, Monsters, and Eden, weren’t good, but Shooter was genius and had so much potential that it deserved this sequel.
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Like the first game, Shooter 2 is a 2D puzzle-heavy shooter that relies on the most basic elements of nature for its unique twist on gameplay. The differences between hot and cold, solid and liquid, and this time, light and dark form the basis for the game world, and it’s up to you to use these properties to forge your way through each level. Your little aircraft still has those standard ‘pew-pew’ guns and homing missiles, and the objective is still to delve deep into the unknown to rescue miners and scientists. Shooter 2 is more like an episodic continuation than an entirely new premise and concept, so how much you enjoy it will depend on whether or not you’ve played the first game (more on that later).
While rescuing trapped miners is the main objective, getting to them is the tricky part. That’s where the elements come into play. Pouring water on magma turns it into stone, which you can shoot through to move forward. Similarly, you can melt ice, freeze water, burn gas, brighten up dark areas, etc. It’s all about using what’s there to create something new all with the purpose of rescuing miners and moving on to the next level. Since the controls are simple, the concept basic, and a story non-existent, you don’t really need to play the first game to enjoy this, but nonetheless, it assumes that you have, so it won’t reintroduce the natural elements that were present in the first game, or ease you into using them against each other. Having said that, these are basic concepts that won’t take anyone too long to pick up.
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Objects such as sponges and fruits, which let you carry certain elements for use elsewhere in the level, also return, as do the game-changing suits. Different suits grant you different powers. While some replace your missiles with water or magma, the hungry suit will let you eat through rock, while the inverter suit will flip the script by killing you in water and allowing you to swim through magma, forcing you to complete change the way you play. There are also more enemy types this time (introducing a few ‘bullet hell’ sequences), and the enemies are more in number as well, which may not have been the best idea. Shooter’s strength, contrary to its name, was in its focus on puzzles over combat. This time, the levels are combat-heavy, and while it never reaches high levels of frustration (thanks to its brilliant controls), there are times when it suddenly spawns enemies right at the exit of a level, taking you by surprise and forcing you to replay the level if you die. It’s a cheap feature and it stands out like a sore thumb in an otherwise classy game.
One of the complaints from the first game was that the difficulty didn’t ramp up a whole lot. Q Games have addressed that issue this time, and may even have overdone it a tad, because Shooter 2 is significantly harder, making you sometimes wish that it had mid-level checkpoints. The boss fights too are much harder, more due to their length and multi-stage nature than the difficulty itself. At times it almost feels like the game wants you to play it in co-op with another player, which is supported (offline only). As in the first game, you’ll have to ensure that you keep picking up hidden diamonds, because the last stage of each section is locked till you’ve collected the required number of diamonds. If you don’t have enough, you’ll have to go back and replay levels. No matter how fun a game may be, you never want to be forced to replay levels you’ve already completed, and having to do so here is quite annoying.
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Shooter 2 adds a one-on-one online multi-player mode, which is surprisingly fun. The object is to ferry survivors to the player’s base, and rather than being a race to see who gets the most, each player takes turns on offence and defence. While one must ferry survivors, his opponent must hunt him down. The only problem is the defending player can only see the other player when there’s a clear line of sight, with a radar gadget to aid him. As you play, you unlock more gadgets and tools, but even in its most basic form, the multi-player is a whole lot of fun and gives the game a lot of longevity beyond its 4-5 hour campaign.
High Frequency Bandwidth once again provides a great electronic soundtrack to the game, and here too the tempo ebbs and flows as the intensity of the on-screen action varies. There isn’t much else to talk about on the presentation side. The simple 2D design, minimal use of animation, and the pastel colour palatte are all signature PixelJunk and very easy on the eyes.
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PixelJunk Shooter 2 is a great game, but most of what makes it great has been carried over from the first game. Its concept is what makes it unique, and while those who’ve played the first game will surely love every minute of it, the novelty is somewhat lost and the joy of discovering how the various elements react to each other is no longer there. But Shooter 2 has got many new tricks up its sleeve, including new suits and level design elements, more challenging combat, great boss fights and a fun multi-player mode. So if you’ve played the first game, there’s plenty of reason jump back in. As for those who haven’t played its predecessor, PixelJunk Shooter 2 is a bigger and better version of one of the best games on the PlayStation Store.