Go! Go! GOTY! 2019: Game Six: Electronic Super Joy II

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Remember Electronic Super Joy? It's the one with the orgasmic checkpoints and that Quick Look where Jeff pretended to be the Franco-Hispanic-Russian game developer (the developers are Canadian, so that's like one-half out of three right). It was also a masocore platformer with some jamming EDM music and sleazy nightclub visual effects. Well, its sequel came out earlier this year - FOR FREE - and barely anyone noticed. It's a shame too, because this sequel is one of my low-key (well, "low-key" isn't really in the game's vocabulary) favorites of 2019.

The story is stupid and inconsequential, by design. You're trying to emancipate Mega-Satan of his shiny golden butt so you can wish for a motorbike, taking down Santa and adjusting to your new Lovecraftian stepdad along the way, and the game only sometimes remembers it has a story to tell. Instead, the game's highlight is and always has been the level design, concise controls, and sheer sensory overload of the visuals and music. It's hard enough to bounce between the minuscule platforms and avoid homing missiles and other projectiles at the best of times without all the hot musical slaps and WinAmp visualizers going on in the background, but it's also what makes the game such a blast to play. (An ample supply of checkpointing doesn't hurt either.)

One of the easier ESJ2 levels. It also has an escort quest in it!
One of the easier ESJ2 levels. It also has an escort quest in it!

As for what makes this different from the first, Electronic Super Joy II has a bit more fun with power-ups. In the original ESJ you only had a stomp attack: this was useful for clearing enemies, but it also allowed you to kill your forward momentum dead and plummet to whatever was beneath you (hopefully a platform). You no longer have the stomp as default, but depending on the level you can acquire a double-, triple- or quintuple-jump, the stomp, an explosive jump that gives you an extra mid-air jump for every enemy you kill with it, or a sword attack that is pretty much the stomp but horizontal. You are offered no real benefit by these skills: the level design is invariably built around you having these abilities, and it's a little disorienting to be reacquainted with a power-up you haven't used for a while but must master fairly quickly to avoid instant death. The sword is perhaps the most tricky: you'll eventually have levels where you must quickly charge to the side and back in quick succession as you rapidly fall down a pit of spiky enemies, and the timing's (literally) a killer. With all the variety offered by these new power-ups, the sky's the limit for the level design.

Other new innovations include occasional side-areas and bonus levels, which you can access through the game's twisty world map equivalent, and the occasional flights of fancy into even more discombobulating skies. This game straight up has Doom levels in it, as well as levels where the camera spins around a 3D model of the level while you're trying to complete it on a 2D plane. The developers evidently went all out to make this game's personality even more idiosyncratic than the original, and in retrospect it's a little strange that I've played two 2D platformers this year with FPS sections (along with Horace).

Another of ESJ2's innovations: a
Another of ESJ2's innovations: a "Minivania" map! If you can't see where I am, I'm about to get killed by a missile (pfft, what else is new).

ESJ2 doesn't have the warmth of last year's Celeste, though it certainly matches it in mechanical diversity, and it still retains that treasured Super Meat Boy feature of allowing you to immediately restart from the last checkpoint without interrupting the music and losing your momentum. And, oh man, that music. The Electronic Super Joy series always brings in some dubstep and drum n' base ringers - in ESJ2's case that's EnV, GetSix, and Reptiore - and the resulting soundtrack is on a Hotline Miami tier of excellence; the kind of tunes you don't mind jamming out to on your first, tenth, or even one hundredth consecutive death. There's no getting past that this is a masocore platformer through and through, and that cycle of endless pain and slow and steady progress via muscle memory is only going to appeal to so many people. The homing missiles, forced auto-scrolling, extremely precise hops, awkward wall-climbing, triangle jumps, and other advanced platforming techniques you'll need to progress through the game can be on the demanding side to say the least, though I feel like if I was able to beat the game then anyone has a chance. Doing so with all the collectibles and achievements, or really going the distance and trying to beat the time trials and zero death challenges, is where the game goes from manageable to a superhuman endeavor if that's where your masochistic tendencies want to take you. No kink-shaming here. I mean, I've no leg to stand on after the amount of orgasm noises this playthrough produced (in-game, I should quickly clarify).

Electronic Super Joy 2 won't win any prizes for subtlety or narrative depth (playing catch with a giant tentacled monstrosity to earn your new daddy's love was oddly endearing though), but it is a tremendous amount of fun and one of the more smartly crafted masocore platformer series out there. That it is being given away for free on Steam right now, which I feel I should put in all-caps again, is some bizarre marketing oversight that everyone should take advantage of immediately.

And yes, you can pet the dog.
And yes, you can pet the dog.

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