They do say, "It's all fun and games until somebody loses an eye." We very nearly lost a DualShock 3, and it wasn't a pretty sight we can assure you. It was all going so well until we hit the level "Know Your Fluid". The stage's anal emphasis on precision nearly caused our head to explode in a fit of frustration, but we persevered and emerged a champion some 40-minutes later. A quick look at the leaderboards told us we weren't the only writers struggling.
Sadly, "Know Your Fluid" simply marked the start of PixelJunk Shooter 2's war against our patience. Some three stages later we found ourselves stuck again. Faced against the unwieldy boss at the summit of Chapter 5, we conceded defeat a number of times. Terra Kingpin looked innocent enough — a charming character made up of unusual shapes and soft colours. As in all walks of life, looks can be deceiving. Terra Kingpin sapped our patience so hard with his variety of bullet-hell attacks and lack of checkpoints that we were forced to storm away from our console on more than one occassion. We don't tend to get frustrated with games, but Shooter 2 is apparently an exception.
Bullet-hell is a word we found ourselves angrily muttering far too often during our time with PixelJunk Shooter 2. New plant type enemies litter the screen with damaging projectiles that either bounce around or push your craft into hazards. We don't mind a challenge, but Shooter 2's ramped up difficulty level makes it hard to appreciate Q-Games' wonderful design, which is still apparent here — it's just hidden behind a screen full of projectiles.
Before we let the red mist fully descend, let's recap. PixelJunk Shooter 2 picks up directly after the conclusion of the previous game. Those that managed to collect enough silver gems to face the final boss will recall [spoilers] their yellow spacecraft being eaten by a giant pink space monster. Brilliantly, the sequel starts you off inside the stomach of your greedy captor. The core gameplay hasn't changed dramatically in PixelJunk Shooter 2. You're still in control of a delightfully weighted space-craft, moving around small corridor-like stages picking up survivors, gems and shooting bad-guys. Like the original, PixelJunk Shooter 2 is as much a puzzle game as it is a shooter. Fluid manipulation puzzles are still a key component of the gameplay, and Q-Games' design is still as refined and intelligent as before.
Starting out inside your captor's belly makes for a fantastic opening. Here you'll need to mix water with stomach acid, navigate through flatulence, and travel through gullet-like passageways using deft control of your craft. The belly also introduces a brand new flesh-eating peripheral for your spacecraft that invokes memories of DigDug as you push blocks and chomp your way through flesh. Q-Games' mix of brilliant level design and subtle art make you feel right at home. It's just a shame that the emphasis on Cave shooter difficulty rears its head before you've had time to really appreciate the strengths of the sequel.
As in the previous game, challenge is incorporated via your space-craft's heat meter. Getting too close to, say, lava will cause your ship's temperature to rise, while taking a dip in the nearest stream will cool things down. Shooter's always been about carefully combining fluids to create to get the right effects, with the implications of these tasks representing the challenge. Shooter 2 ups the challenge with a bunch of new enemy types, some of which are beyond frustrating. We jumped into the original game just to get a feel for how the difficulty fared there, and we came to the conclusion that Shooter 2 is just cheap. While there's still very little penalty placed upon dying, it's super frustrating having to play through the same screen over-and-over again because Q-Games decided to drop the equivalent of a Gatling gun right next door to the exit. We understand that the sequel is a natural continuation of the original, but did the difficulty level really need to be raised so frustratingly high? The campaign's still packed with variety and memorable puzzles, but contending with the game's inept difficulty threshold left a sour taste in our mouth. We even found ourselves unwilling to play through the game multiple times in order secure a better leaderboard ranking. Once is enough when your leg is still stinging from the beating incurred during your first play-through.
For us, the real disappointment was not the challenge, but the way the frustration masked our genuine appreciation of the game design. The puzzles and level design are still brilliant in Shooter 2, but the package is compromised by unwieldy enemies and a heavy combat focus.
In addition to the four-five hour campaign, Q-Games has added an alarmingly in-depth competitive multiplayer mode with ranks and unlocks. The cat-and-mouse game-type combines the best of PixelJunk Shooter's core mechanics with some pretty smart stealth gameplay. The hook is that one player is invisible unless in direct sight of their opponent, allowing them to sneak around the environment and score points by rescuing survivors. Of course, when the roles are reversed, cunning players will be able to use their invisibility to steal survivors back netting the points for themselves. A neat unlock system means you'll constantly be earning new weapons and abilities as you progress. It's a cool extension to the Shooter experience, but whether it can maintain an audience remains to be seen.
The entire package is coated in the kind of gloss and polish you'd expect from a PixelJunk title. The art-style is minimalistic and attractive, while the music provided by High Frequency is appropriate and quirky. We're kind of torn assessing Shooter 2. The lovable premise of the original is still present, but the game's marred by the patience-sapping difficulty of its later levels.