There was a time when the final entry in Q-Games’ Pixeljunk cycle of PlayStation Network releases was due to be called “Elements”. The gameplay was based around solving puzzles by mixing substances like ice, lava and water, so the title did that difficult thing of both sounding good and being a fair representation of the experience. We can only assume that Sony’s marketing bods then chimed in with some ‘helpful’ suggestions, because the game was eventually released as Pixeljunk Shooter – much more generic, much more saleable.
Clearly, the gambit worked, because Pixeljunk Shooter 2 is the only full sequel to any Pixeljunk game. Sales obviously played a part in getting the project off the ground, but in a series known for taking simple concepts and wringing every last drop of entertainment from them, Shooter was the only one that felt under-nourished.
For the sequel, Q-Games seems intent on justifying the Shooter name. Once again, you control a tiny ship navigating its way through various hazardous locales, solving puzzles and rescuing survivors to gain access to the next area – the game is spread over three strikingly different worlds, each composed of five sections.
This time, however, there is a far greater emphasis on killing enemies with the ship’s cannons, including a few moments that seem to have dropped straight out of a traditional twin-stick shooter. Fans of the original won’t be jumping for joy at the news, but Shooter wisely improves on the elemental puzzle-solving, too.
The most telling addition is a range of “suits” that temporarily grant your ship special abilities. Some are broadly useful – pneumatic jaws that allow you to eat through hard substances like bone – others are specific to a particular environment – a suit that makes you impervious to lava but susceptible to ice, for example, or one that attaches a light to your ship in the game’s final, breathtakingly beautiful section.
The goal here is to tweak rather than reinvent the formula, and there seems to be a new detail or idea at virtually every stage of the game. In the first world, for example, there is a purple liquid that steadily dissolves your ship if you make contact, leaving you a few precious moments to find a water source to wash it off. These additions make the game considerably tougher than its predecessor, so if you have little tolerance for learning by dying, you might want to consider some couch co-op with a friend.
Indeed, that friend will also allow you to indulge in Pixeljunk Shooter 2’s new two-player versus mode. In its simplest form, it involves both ships entering an arena containing seven survivors, with the goal of rescuing more than your opponent. But the core experience is enlivened with a range of environmental hazards, win conditions and power-ups that can be purchased with currency earned by playing the game.
Pixeljunk Shooter 2 is a more substantial experience than its predecessor in every respect, and real boon for the PlayStation Network after last year’s bumper crop of essential Xbox Live games. Cynics will complain that it doesn’t do anything drastically different to the first game, but don’t listen to them. As an unabashed Pixeljunk fan I can confidently say that more of the same is exactly what the faithful is looking for.
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