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PixelJunk Shooter 2
Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Q Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Puzzle/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
PixelJunk Shooter 2 forgoes polygons in favor of solid colors and mesmerizing fluid physics. It looks like a Flash game with a high budget, and that's exactly the right look for this title. Everything looks simple, yet the style pops in its own special way. The artists and level designers clearly worked with each other every step of the way, and as a result, PixelJunk Shooter 2 looks clean and confident from beginning to end. Most notable is the environmental design; though it doesn't change much until the game's second half, it always finds ways to impress. Earlier levels feel alive; that's a good thing, because the beginning of the game takes place in the guts of a giant monster. Everything quivers and pulsates, and it would probably would be grotesque if not for the game's cartoon aesthetic. Instead, it's oddly charming. Once you leave the confines of the monster's innards, things really get interesting. Again, the level design and art design are tied together; whenever the game reinvents itself, so must the art style.

High Frequency Bandwidth's funky soundtrack gives PixelJunk Shooter 2 its own jazzy flair. Heavy bass riffs, hypnotic rhythms, and tons of distortion collide to create a sound experience that is best described as "in-your-face." If you have a good set of headphones, there's some serious ear candy here. The sound effects are also no slouch, though they can't really hold a candle to the awesome music. Every threat comes with its own aural accompaniment, but none of them are pronounced enough to take center stage away from the tunes.


Gameplay:
The end of PixelJunk Shooter saw a rescue operation ultimately stalled out by a giant monster who simply wanted a bit of lunch. PixelJunk Shooter 2 picks up from that very point, with your ship plunging into the depths of the creature's digestive system. You're not all the beast has eaten, though. Its appetizer appears to have been a large number of scientists and a bunch of diamonds. So your work is cut out for you.

You'll navigate your tiny craft around each level, alternating between saving scientists, collecting treasure, blasting hostiles, and saving your own skin. The game is at its best when it requires you to multitask between the four, and the dynamic environments certainly help with that. For example, you'll often have to use your trusty grappling hook to pull on one of a number of uvula-shaped switches; which almost always results in some bizarre biological response. For example, one might trigger an influx of purifying water, while another might trigger peristalsis in a cavity that you need to traverse.

PixelJunk Shooter 2 features a two-player online mode, and while it's interesting, it lacks the pull to stand up to larger-scale multiplayer modes. The setup is solid and the fundamentals are nailed, at least. There's a persistence system with unlockable in-game items, as well as a nifty betting system you can use to rub your opponent's pride in the dirt. The action plays out like you'd expect it to; the player on offense must bring survivors to a designated circle, while the player on defense must make sure that doesn't happen. However, players on defense can't see players on offense unless they are in plain sight. This makes for an interesting game of cat-and-mouse, but it's not something I see myself (or anyone else) returning to.


Difficulty:
PixelJunk Shooter 2 is as tough as you make it. If you're the kind of gamer who has to absolutely collect everything in a game, you're in for a rough ride. Some diamonds and scientists are quite difficult to retrieve, and those who attempt to snatch them up must deal with the potential consequences (a one-hit death and an instant restart).

If you're the kind of gamer who simply wants to sit back and have a good time, PixelJunk Shooter 2 shouldn't give you too much frustration. The controls are precise and responsive enough to force gamers to drop the old "the game is being cheap" defense. If you've got a case of stupid fingers, PixelJunk Shooter 2's later levels just might bury you.


Game Mechanics:
PixelJunk Shooter 2 does much with very little. The controls are your standard twin-stick affair with some trigger action thrown in for good measure; the right one controlling your weapons and the left one activating the grappling hook. (Don't confuse the two when rescuing scientists, or you might make a deadly mistake.) A handy spin ability (tied directly to the aiming stick) helps you collect stars and also acts as a close quarters attack. Though that's all you have to work with, it's far from all you need to know.

In PixelJunk Shooter 2, survival is priority one, and the environments are rarely hospitable. If your ship reaches a certain temperature, you will lose control and (most likely) crash. However, you can't simply stay away from all the heat; you must simply manage it. For example, if you're set upon by a pack of enemies, you might have to unleash a flurry of missiles -- an action that significantly increases your ship's heat level. The manner in which you purge your excessive heat is sometimes left up to you, but more often than not, you'll have to make use of water sources. Some of them are fixed while others are portable. Water is your best friend in PixelJunk Shooter 2, whether you need to cool down or rinse off acid. There are also a number of suits you'll find throughout your journey. These special outfits shed light on the right solution for each situation, but there's a perfect way to solve each one.

PixelJunk Shooter 2 is a great sequel that easily earns a well-deserved recommendation. Its simplicity is a huge part of its charm, and its more creative facets border on brilliant.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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