If you’ve played the first PixelJunk Shooter, there’s virtually no learning curve when picking up the controller to play the second. The same charming visuals still apply; the same head-scratching puzzles persist; and the mechanics remain roughly the same despite a handful of additions that serve to enhance the overall experience. The developers promise that PixelJunk Shooter 2 is a bona fide sequel – not simply an expansion pack – and while that ultimately proves to be true, the team isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel either. What worked still works. There’s just a handful of cool, new features to keep the experience fun.
Shooter 2 opens just moments after the “cliffhanger” ending of the first game…in the belly of giant worm with some serious digestive issues. Immediatley, players are introduced to the latest iteration of the game’s rather impressive fluid mechanics: corrosive stomach acid. This purple ooze sloshes about in the dips and pockets of the fleshy, pink walls and sprays forth in well timed increments from grotesque, spurting pustules. Get hit and the slime will start to eat through the hull of your ship; get covered enough and your screen will go darker and darker. Either way, you’ll need to find a water source to wash off your ship before you lose your structural integrity altogether.
As before, you’ll propel yourself forward with the left stick and rotate your ship with the right. The left trigger operates your grapple chord and the right fires your main guns (or your homing missiles after a longer press, but watch out for overheating if you fire too many in a short span). You’ll also be able to do the old “spin” maneuver, but with a new twist. Mid-spin, press R3 and you’ll dash forward in a damage-dealing strike.
You’re not alone in the stomach, however, stalked by organisms and forced to rescue gobbled-up scientists in the most remote pockets of the worm’s gutsack. All the while, you’ll be dodging sprays of acid and encountering oceans of lava – a favorite beverage for giant earthworms – that often require rerouting water sources to cool down the magma and create breakable rock-beds.
Players will encounter slippery gas bubbles that make you lose control of your ship, forcing you to cling to select surfaces with your grapple and slingshot yourself forward. You’ll also discover something called a “Hungry Suit” that transforms your ship into a giant set of rock-breaking teeth, Dig-Dugging your way in right angles through hard surfaces.
Eventually, we jumped ahead to a later level that focused less on liquid than on light. A dark, dimly lit environment awaited us, but carnivorous creatures wait in the blackness, latching onto your ship and tearing it to pieces. You can shake them off, but only in the light, so a speedy dash to the nearest light-source proves the key to your survival. The same basic gameplay applies here, including moveable glowing objects that’ll provide some temporary cover down longer, darker passageways. Just don’t get caught in the dark when they go out.
Overall, we’re told that there are three major environments with five stages per environment and five levels per stage. So there’s a fair amount of game here. And that’s not even counting the multiplayer.
New to the series, the MP mode pits player-against-player in a competitive game of keepaway. Players will alternate between offense and defense with the offense attempting to locate capsules and move them into a safe zone while the defense must locate the enemy and blow them to smithereens before racking up a decent score. All rounds are timed to avoid any over-long games of cat-and-mouse. Players can bet on each game with Q-coins, a currency worth accumulating since it’ll purchase the player newer, more powerful add-ons exclusive to the multiplayer game.
These additions come in four categories: Power-Ups, Weapons, Disruptors and Hazards. Power-Ups include abilites like camo (to blend into walls) and speed boost, while Weapons offer homing missles, proximity mines, spread guns and bouncing bullets. Disruptors can add sticky walls or reverse player positions. Hazards, however, prove the deadliest, summoning tidal waves, converting water to lava (and vice versa), switching gravity polarity or rewinding time. But keep in mind, the more powerful the ability, the fewer available uses per round, but as the developer said, it’s a very cool sight indeed to summon a tidal wave toward your enemy, then convert the water into lava, and subsequently reverse the gravity so that the breaking magma-waves float upward into the air and toward your retreating foe.
PixelJunk Shooter 2 is looking and playing great at this point. And only a few weeks away from a March 1st release, it's unlikely not to deliver upon the expectations of arcades fans everywhere.