PixelJunk Shooter 2: Small mechanics are the biggest

I reviewed Pixeljunk Shooter 2 for Screenjabber recently and found it to be a rather splendid experience. I found it so splendid that I gave it five stars and made it a probably game of the year contender. My history with the Junky Pixel guys (Q-Games) has stretched on and on for years and 2009’s Pixeljunk Shooter was a definite candidate for game of the year behind Uncharted 2 which rocked the casbah. I absolutely loved all of its little intricate design that all spilled from its simple little mechanics. The physics of all the liquids such as water sound simple enough, along with being able to mix with lava to create lava, but this is something more.

Like with Portal or Braid, simple ideas spill out to become these big arching ways of interacting with the environment. Lava and water makes rock which can then be shot down, or you can spill lava across it for when the nasties come from the tunnel above. The trial and error design of Pixeljunk Shooter 2 appears frustrating but you realise that you’ve got to approach each situation differently rather than just try again. It’s beautiful design where the smallest of mechanics make the biggest impact. I haven’t seen it on this level since World of Goo.

Although I do have one worry with the game, it isn’t really concerned with the simplicity of the mechanics as much as it is just those little accidents with physics. When I’m using the lava suit to spray it upwards, if there’s water or ice up above; it’s never really said how much it takes to overheat your ship and kill you. The physics often fight against you as much as they fight for, a lot like how the simplicity of the mechanics does actually raise some concerns if I think about it. The lava/water combo is easily realised and the game encourages experimentation with liquids, but it’s not so rationally explained how you can use these mechanics.

There’s one level with a giant tube of lava literally out of reach. It’s blocked behind a wall and it flows from the top of the screen and into the figural ‘next room’. It’s called visual foreshadowing, in that I can expect that I’ll have to utilise lava in the next room. I noticed it but sometimes it doesn’t register on a concious level, so when you do come across lava you won’t be taken back by its appearance. It’s a little visual trick you see everywhere, but a part of me feels it’d been better to have this lava then be turned to stone by a gush of water. This would allow the player to recognise how he would approach the next room.

Although thinking this, this wouldn’t be an actual interactive moment so the brain might think that it’s just a one-off. Although given how it’s logical to think that’s how lava would actually react to water, I guess it wouldn’t be a big deal that it wouldn’t be interactive. It’s a set-up for the interactive moment and a visual moment is perfect. Sometimes these visual moments hint towards something wider too, the lava tunnel moment happens on the very first level (I think) so you already know how this game will play out without even playing.

One part of PixelJunk Shooter 2 that absolutely blew me away is the fact that it contains probably the most cleverest boss designs I have ever seen in a video-game. It’s absolutely nerdgasming to see tributes to the retro likes of Space Invaders and hints towards Ikarugu, with the gameplay board being completely changed with the movement of your little ship shifting from being able to look and shoot and move anywhere to facing upwards on a 2D plane while battling monsters. All of the bosses are genius but I noticed that there’s something wrong the enemies.

They seem to repeat and show up as little threat. Your small little mechanics that have a big impact, the physics of liquids, is what matters here but for a game called Shooter I expected more shooting. There was an opportunity here to do what the multiplayer mode did and allow for a wide variety of shooting mechanics and not just the little laser and missiles. The multiplayer mode has homing missiles, time manipulation and all manner of clever ways to shoot and boom. There’s even camouflage in the mode which would diversify the ways of approaching any given single-player situation.

Nevertheless, PixelJunk Shooter 2 is the finest twin-stick shooter I have ever played. From the manipulation of small mechanics for big effects to the surprisingly good multiplayer and the soundtrack being the best I’ve heard since 2009’s Shatter. It’s one hell of a game and I recommend it for everybody to try out.

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