In many ways, it's unfair to call PixelJunk Shooter 2 a sequel to the original, as the game comes across as a second act of sorts. When most folks think of sequels, they often imagine vastly refined or upgraded mechanics along with several new styles of gameplay. PixelJunk Shooter 2 doesn't really achieve that level of reinvention, but rather serves as a continuation of the franchise, picking up where the last game left off. Other PixelJunk titles have taken a similar approach, but the expansions were smaller and known as "Encores." That might be a fitting way to look at this game, as it really feels more like PixelJunk Shooter Encore than a full-fledged sequel.
The original game ended with (spoiler alert) your tiny ship being swallowed by a very large worm. Thus, the new entry begins in the gastrointestinal tract of the oversize insect as you pilot around the critter's gut once more, saving trapped miners and looking for a way out. How all these humans managed to get themselves swallowed without being chewed up or digested is a true wonder, but you won't have time to really contemplate such matters, since you'll be too busy trying to stay alive.
Fans of the first title will recall that the interplay between water and lava was the main gimmick in the original, with players needing to constantly cool their ships in water and redirect lava away from vital pathways and stranded miners in order to succeed. The sequel keeps that spirit intact but throws in a host of new liquids and even some gases to spice things up. For instance, traveling through the creature's tummy will expose your ship to digestive acids which, as would be expected, aren't exactly beneficial to your well-being. While the acid isn't as immediately dangerous as lava, it does cling your ship, causing damage over time and ultimately dooming your mission unless you find some water to wash it off. Later stages also introduce magnetically charged oil, which seems to reach out to ensnare your ship as you fly near it. The variety of new fluids is a welcome addition, and they do a great deal to add a greater sense of danger and unpredictability.
While the new fluids and gases add to the gameplay experience, the various suits players must utilize to succeed normally fall flat. A handful of stages are impossible with standard weaponry, so players must instead opt for a special suit that introduces an odd gimmick and is only used for one screen. Some can be enjoyable, like the Inverse Suit, which allows you to fly through lava while making water your enemy, but most are flops on the level of the Hungry Suit, which temporarily turns the experience into a game of Dig Dug.
The final third of the game takes a bold risk, and the result is a set of love-'em-or-hate-'em levels that will polarize audiences. Suddenly, the elements of light and dark are thrown on top of all the other challenges, so players must navigate rooms, fight enemies and rescue survivors all while keeping out of the shadows. These stages are very tense and sometimes frantic, as you must race from one dimly lit room to another before being attacked and killed by invulnerable shadow enemies. While some gamers may enjoy the frantic pace and constant threat of death, the whole concept seems to fly in the face of the rest of the PixelJunk Shooter design philosophy, so many players will probably be turned off.
PixelJunk Shooter 2 also adds a competitive multiplayer element, but the delivery of this mode is somewhat botched. Two players are set against each other with turns on offense and defense; one player tries to rescue survivors while the other attempts to thwart this chivalrous act. Ranked matches are rewarded with cash that can be used to buy ship upgrades, and there's a deep enough well of available content that it takes several hours to unlock everything. The main problem with multiplayer is that matchmaking can be uneven, so a low-level player is often thrown into battle against a stronger and more well-equipped opponent. While it's not impossible to take down better-armed foes (and there's a nice reward in it if you do), it is improbable, and since the game's community has dwindled to a very small base of hardcore players, it's hard to jump into the multiplayer at this point and have much fun.
It's not as if players going from the campaign to the multiplayer mode should be unaccustomed to difficulty, since the game's abrupt and crippling difficulty spikes can be downright infuriating. There will inevitably be rooms where your progress comes to a screeching halt, and you'll remain stuck there until you memorize the enemy patterns perfectly and navigate without straying even a hair off-course. The repeated deaths are bad enough, but a limited checkpoint system also means that you'll have to completely restart a room anytime you die. Just wait for the first time you're about to hit an exit when an enemy suddenly spawns directly on top of you, destroys your ship and forces you to replay the entire stage. If you manage to not break your controller or television at this point, then congratulations! Your level of patience likely makes you a candidate for sainthood.
The new elements and levels produced for PixelJunk Shooter 2 are nice, but they don't feel like enough to justify another full-priced game. The engine is still the exact same, so while the visuals and art are still high-quality, the imprecise and sloppy controls have also returned. The franchise is definitely moving in the right direction, but if we're going to see a PixelJunk Shooter 3 down the line, then there need to be some pretty substantial innovations going forward. In any case, this is still a very well-made downloadable game, albeit one that leans a little too heavily on the success of its forbearer.
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