PixelJunk Monsters 2 Review (PS4)
When PixelJunk Monsters debuted in the PS3’s infancy, there was a good reason it became a cult classic.
With few games on the fledgling Playstation store, the incredibly low price point meant those charmed by the unique art style could take a punt without too much to lose.
What they got was a tower defence game, that stalwart genre of the smartphone. Sure, it had a cute afro-centric hero and even cuter masked monsters. But the gameplay was recognisably simple. Build towers to destroy the waves of ever-approaching and increasingly tough enemies.
But behind the simple exterior, PixelJunk Monsters was a classic. It was deceptively deep, challenging and oozed charm. The towers were built not by the hand of god touching a mobile screen but by a wandering character – Tikiman. And your lives represented by innocent, squealing younger versions – the Chibis. This made it a tower defence optimised for a console and controller setup. And easily the best one ever made to be played with a joypad.
The good news is that the sequel has remained remarkably faithful to this winning formula. Fans can expect to plough many, many hours into a similar challenge.
The bad news is that not all of the differences from the original are improvements.
Graphically, PixelJunk Monsters 2 has quite the upgrade. Gone are the much-loved 2D monsters, replaced by what looks for all intents and purposes like plasticine or clay stock animation. Like Morph took too much acid on a backpacking holiday. Any screenshot you see can be regarded as gameplay footage. It’s as colourful and charming as the original. Only this time you feel like you are playing with toy versions of the different creatures.
The music, too, is strange and ambient, but doesn’t intrude when you’ve been playing for hours. One jangly track resembles an 80s heavily reverberated guitar riff. But it too blends into the background.
As before, the maps get progressively bigger and more complicated, until you are setting strategies based on which routes you think the enemies will take. Only to find they enter from a different point or, in the case of the flying enemies, bypass the roads altogether.
Unlike the previous game however, the camera is set much closer, so you have less of a strategic view of the battlefield. This can make moments much more stressful as you try and scout around to find where the threat is coming from. The towers you build no longer use up one tree, meaning some of your plans to place them close together are scuppered when the build takes up all three trees in a copse, for example.
It’s not all about making things tougher however. Tikiman now has other abilities at your disposal. He can buy or find fruit which work as power-ups or traps. He can jump up onto platforms to find shortcuts or place towers off the beaten track. And Q-games have added a zoomed-in third person mode where you can view the whole game behind Tikiman’s head. I’m not sure if anyone would actually play a level like this, since you cannot see what is happening beyond his immediate vicinity. But it’s a neat graphical trick.There is also the odd boulder lying around. A well-timed shove can send it careering into a procession of monsters. Usually though, it will roll off harmlessly leaving you wondering why it had been placed there at all.
What the ball does reveal, however, is the excellent physics in the game. The maps are no longer flat. they have hills and barriers and the creatures have weight. And all of this adds to the sense of playing with clay models. It’s a neat addition which shows how much the game has been a labour of love for Q-games. After all, it has been a whole decade since the original.
In that time, Q-games has blossomed into a major player. PixelJunk Monsters 2 is a worthy addition to the company’s repertoire. And a welcome return for the charming Tikiman.
But with a price point seven times the original, it remains to be seen whether it attracts any new fans willing to take a punt.
8 Chibis out of 10