PixelJunk Shooter 2 review (PS3)

The sequel to Q-Games' 2009 title PixelJunk Shooter follows on from the first game by exploring a different genre and style of play. The last entry was undoubtedly one of the greatest twin-stick shooters of all time. Not much has changed since and the mechanics have been cryogenically preserved, but the extra spices and delights make PixelJunk Shooter 2 the unprecedented greatest twin-stick shooter of all time.

The game functions with you moving your little ship with the left stick and aiming with the right stick on a 2D plain. R1/R2 shoots (holding it down fires missiles) while L1/L2 acts as the grappling hook that chomps up dudes and is used during puzzles and boss sequences. Throughout the entirety of the game, there is a temperature bar present and if it hits max without you cooling off, boom goes your ship, but it's thankfully not a ‘one-hit, die’ annoyance like a lot of twin-stick shooters.

The enemies pose little threat compared to the environment full of traps, lava and now acid. The sequel is set in squishy places from literally inside a giant worm to deep caverns and a nostalgic trip through all of the previous game’s elemental areas.

The story here is about the mining operation on the planet going wrong by the unearthing of a giant worm. Said giant worm, which has eaten you alive, is now causing the destruction of the planet. There are special rescue-wanting dudes who spout textual bits that fill in the plot, but it’s obviously not the focus here. Aside from a textual delivery of the story, this is a narrative delivered primarily through an interactive and visual means. There’s also the music from High Frequency Bandwidth to keep you invested and by jimmy riddles, I haven’t heard a better soundtrack since 2009’s Shatter.

There are new bits and pieces to play with such as a Hungry Suit, which attaches giant jaws to your ship. There’s a whole area based around manipulating light with little portable bulbs and there’s now goddamn stomach acid. The purple fluid will get into your ship and heat you up, so you have to clean it off with water fast, or you’ll melt to death. In its gaseous form it’s less harmful but you lose control of your ship’s movement so you have to navigate via the grappling hook.

Most of your time in the game will be spent manipulating the elements in order to overcome the endless caverns. Water and lava make stone, the magnetic liquid and water make gas and stomach gas plus water equals stomach acid. There are very, very simple concepts at play but just like the likes of World of Goo, all of these mechanics are so fleshed out in often ingenious ways that it just turns out to be beautiful design.

The objective is to rescue mini folks using your grappling hook and also gather secret diamonds throughout the levels in order to advance past the stages. Each stage is made up of five levels with a final boss at the end. These are often the downright highlights of the entire game. One of these battles is based entirely within a giant worm’s intestines, and in another you’re fighting the bottom of an insect that’s just turned the game into a Space Invaders tribute sequence.

The multiplayer component of the game functions with two players going at it with all sorts of gadgetry from time manipulation to homing missiles and camouflage. The objective of Battle Mode is a cat-and-mouse game, with the roles continuously reversing throughout the match. You have to rescue the little guys and bring them back to your side. This turned out to be a massive surprise to me, as I never thought the mechanics could be applied to such a competitive angle. Clever unlock abilities and a league system give the game a lasting value that it has over its predecessor.

The elemental physics work brilliantly, the old suits work fantastically well (such as the Inverter Suit which swaps your temperature needs from cool to very hot, requiring you to ‘cool off’ in lava). PixelJunk Shooter 2 is a true sequel with blood flowing in its digital veins. The multiplayer component is surprisingly beefy and there’s even some lasting appeal added for good measure. Simply put, PixelJunk Shooter 2 is the best twin-stick shooter on the market and is without a doubt one true herald of great 2D game design.

PixelJunk Shooter 2 is available now from the PlayStation Store.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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