|Release: March 1, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Steve Haske
Q-Games' aesthetic presentation within the PixelJunk universe may feel somewhat uniform, but their designs are all over the place, and some work better than others. One of their best to date was PixelJunk Shooter, a (you guessed it) shooter that placed you in a small craft underground. Your task was to use the environmental interaction to progress while rescuing scientists and collecting items. The game was less like a standard "shoot everything in sight" dual-stick arcade shooter, and actually required some finesse. In fact, if you shot everything in sight, you would often miss people or kill people you were supposed to rescue, or otherwise miss items that were crucial to unlocking new levels—it almost had the feel of a shooter puzzle game. When the end of a level (which was broken up into several smaller stages) reared its head, PixelJunk Shooter took on the form of a classic shmup, with boss battles against hulking adversaries reminiscent of Gradius or R-Type, only modernized in with really slick 2D visuals for the HD crowd. In PixelJunk Shooter 2, very little of this has changed.
What they did change was the setting. Whereas the first PJS took place in underground caverns dealing with environmental hazards and obstacles, PixelJunk Shooter 2 sees your tiny craft eaten by a huge space worm. This is not unlike EA PSN and XBLA game Microbot, which saw a tiny nanobiotic craft injected into the infected host body playing victim to a biogenetic rash of nanomachine viruses—but, as you might expect, the two-dimensional aesthetic of PixelJunk Shooter 2 is a step above, with lush and vibrant animation and artistic detail that almost makes you feel like you're playing an indie animated short. Needless to say, when you're piloting your craft through an organic tract that's bubbling with stomach acid and lava is splashing across the screen, it's a pretty cool sight, even in spite of the fact that there haven't been that many changes in environmental hazards and mechanics from the first game.
What is there makes for a more varied game experience, however, while upping the strategy as well. The aforementioned stomach acid requires a quick zip to fresh water, lest your craft disintegrate; special suits such as the water suit or, my personal favorite, the hungry suit, allow you to douse malignant, virus-like organic materials (stopping them in their tracks), or eat through the limestone quarry-like insides of various passages within the worm in order to unearth key items, rescue more research scientists, or use patterns of blocks to drop on enemies or create barriers for, say, lava flows that would otherwise spill out hazardously. Suction-lined walls will suck you in, poison you with purple bile, and this time around creatures will stick to you in dark levels; you get the idea. The switch from natural to organic environs seen in PixelJunk Shooter 2 is really at least half the treat though—the levels themselves look good enough, but wait until you see the bullet-hell bosses.
This is more or the less the same PixelJunk you know already, though. Lava, ice, and water all play their parts again here, and if you treat the game like any other shooter, you're probably going to screw up and may even strand yourself, say, in the event that you blow a hole in an organic fissue of liquid fire that slowly fills until you're trapped. Despite it's familiar trappings, though, it's still a great deal of fun to figure out exactly what you need to do with the environment in order to get past some otherwise impossible situations, which adds a new level of depth to an otherwise seemingly straight forward game. With all the puzzle-platformers out there, it would be interesting to see more of this kind of design pop up more often. Furthermore, while perfectly competent when playing solo, a significant amount of PJS2's challenge seems tailor made for co-op play. More often than not the obstacles you face require a certain order of timing. An early example requires one player to dive into a pool of bile in order to pull a level that releases a door, which temporarily drains the reservoir while releasing poison gas above. As the acid begins to refill, it's far simpler for the other player to time the drop of the gas with their escape (if you're hit the door closes), and since only one player has to make it through the door to progress, a group approach works best. This sort of tandem play serves the game well, and, as luck would have it, is a lot of fun.
Since PixelJunk Shooter is not the type of game that you can play by just blasting everything you see to kingdom come, not everyone is going to be a fan. Players that enjoy adventure game design in an orthodox style will likely find it interesting, however. It may not top the potential of Journey, the next game from the developers of Flower, but with its mix of strategy, action, and multi-tiered bullet-hell boss battles (some of which can last up to ten minutes), PSN fans would do well to not pass this one up.
CCC Freelance Writer