Version tested: PlayStation 3
An update to a PixelJunk game is nothing new, but while all previous titles in the series received free downloadable tweaks Shooter is the first to get a proper sequel that costs actual money. Perhaps that's understandable; the first game's brevity was its only serious problem, while its gentle puzzling and exploration seemingly offered plenty of room for expansion. This follow-up sees former Nintendo alumnus Dylan Cuthbert and his team at Q-Games attempt to address both issues, with mixed results.
The storytelling remains refreshingly economical. At the game's outset your small yellow craft is swallowed by a giant underground worm straight out of horror-comedy classic Tremors. The beast is hardly the fussiest of eaters, chomping through huge chunks of the surrounding mines, and thus trapping those workers in haz-mat suits who again require rescue via your ship's grappling hook.
From the outset, it's clear that you're in more hazardous territory than in the first game, and not just because your ship is inside a monster's stomach. Enemies are more plentiful and seem to require more shots to dispatch, while the environment itself presents unique dangers. Brush against the undulating fleshy walls and you can temporarily stick, poisoned by a purple substance that dissolves your vessel if you don't submerge in water to wash it off in time. Stalling peristalsis with a well-aimed bomb may provide a route to a new area, but the terrible roar that accompanies it often precipitates a race against reflux; poison or lava will rapidly pour in, forcing a swift exit.
If the first game referenced Eighties classic Thrust, Shooter 2 feels more game-literate, with a wider range of influences. The increased enemy count and organic environs of the first third invite association with the Mutant Storm games, while the bullet-hell second boss in particular suggests someone at Q-Games has been playing a few Cave shooters recently. Meanwhile, a new 'hungry suit', which attaches metal jaws to the front of your craft, temporarily turns the game into Mr. Driller, restricting your movement as you munch vertically or horizontally through bone to reach trapped miners and drop square rocks onto enemy heads.
The latter is the first of a series of new power-ups which imbue your ship with fresh abilities, from one which illuminates the gloom of the darkened caves in the latter stages, to another which allows your ship to travel through lava; water and ice, rather than heat, suddenly becoming your new enemies. More productive use is made of the grapple hook, too; there's a pleasing resistance to the levers you pull, while tugging apart crusty obstructions in the monster's body has the same gruesome satisfaction as picking a scab. The claw can also anchor your ship to swing points, providing control through passageways of disorientating gas bubbles. Meanwhile, some enemies require you to negotiate a spray of projectiles so you can get close enough to incapacitate them with the grapple before your bullets finally take them down.
While the majority of the puzzles still involve one type of fluid colliding with another, the suits make them a little more malleable. Magnetised oil can be guided to fill containers to activate mechanisms or push survivors through narrow tubes, while spraying water onto flat ice provides a handy grip point to pull aside the obstruction.
Even so, there's a strong feeling of familiarity – at least until you reach the pitch-black caves of the later stages, where light plays a key role. Spraying lava over giant alien plants gives them the power to illuminate the inky gloom, which hides limpet-like creatures that swarm your ship should you remain in the black too long. They can be shaken off by dragging them into the light and rapidly spinning, and add a pleasingly different kind of threat to the regular bullet-spitting foes.