doctor_kaz's PixelJunk Shooter 2 (PlayStation Network (PS3)) review

Sadistically punishing, to the point of not being fun

I absolutely love the first PixelJunk Shooter. It was an excellent blend of lighthearted shoot-em-up with great music, great puzzles, and an entertaining atmosphere. This sequel is a lot less fun. The new gameplay elements aren't a lot of fun, and that is for one reason, in particular – the game's brutal, punishing, and often unfair difficulty level. This wouldn't be so bad, were it not for another inexcusably bad feature of the game – limited lives. In other words, if you die enough, you no longer have the opportunity to repeat one screen – you have to repeat the ENTIRE LEVEL. When you consider that almost every screen involves at least a few deaths, this sometimes means that you lose an hour of progress. It's frustrating, infuriating, and whatever other terms you want to can come up with to describe the feeling that you get when you are constantly tempted to throw the controller across the room.

If you played the first game, you should still have a good idea of what Pixeljunk Shooter 2 has to offer. You pilot around a little ship, and with it you can shoot stuff and pick up stuff like treasure and survivors. You sometimes pick up power-ups and objects that modify your ship so that you can complete special challenges on a level. You shoot walls and manipulate your environment in all sorts of ways to solve puzzles and then you head for the exit. The basic formula works very well.

There is a fine line between challenging and punishing. The former can be fun, but the latter often isn't. The difference is often subtle and Pixeljunk Shooter 2 crosses that line too often. The ship that you command essentially goes down in one hit, and there are no checkpoints within a sublevel. The game also has ambush style encounters on almost every screen and a significant amount of trial and error. In addition, there are a lot more environmental hazards that will kill the survivors that you need to rescue. These hazards sometimes build up in a manner that forces you to race through the level as fast as possible, causing you to make all kinds of mistakes. The first game had the same basic mechanics, but it didn't have as many traps or as many enemies, and they weren't as deadly. Some games actually benefit from being really hard for some reason, but not a game from this series. The somewhat easygoing vibe communicated by the music and the graphics don't work well with a really high level of challenge.

I would be unfair to the game though if I said that it doesn't have any redeeming qualities, because it does. It still has charming graphics and another great techno soundtrack. It has a few wonderful levels and a lot of satisfyingly challenging puzzles. It was at least a fun enough game for me to finish, which means that it can't be bad. However, I must say, I came close at least a couple of times to swearing it off completely and deleting it from my hard drive. Some prefer extremely hard, punishing games. The relatively low score that I give to this sequel is as much an indication of my personal preference as anything else. It is possible that you will enjoy it more. If you have played enough games, you probably know what your tolerance for punishment is. Me – I wish that Pixeljunk Shooter 2 had been more like the first.

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