There was a period where it was hard to keep track of all the “PixelJunk” games by Q-Games out there, especially during the PS3 era. PixelJunk Monsters was one of the earlier and most successful games in the series, with re-releases for several platforms in “ultimate” and “deluxe” flavors. In fact, I’m still waiting for “Ultimate HD” to go on sale once more for the Vita, so I can pick that one up as well. Here’s PixelJunk Monsters 2 though, which we tested on PS4.
Now, about five years since the last re-release and ten years since the original game, PixelJunk Monsters 2 is out for the PS4, Steam and the Switch – with a new publisher, as that mantle has been taken over by Spike Chunsoft. Let’s hope it’s the start of a new wave of PixelJunk games.
The original game was one of the early success stories in the genre, after which there was a whole flood of similar titles. Now, they’re being increasingly rare, at least outside of the mobile game environment. The basic formula for the game hasn’t changed much in PixelJunk Monsters 2, as you still play as the Tiki mask-wearing Tikiman trying to protect your little Chibis through classic tower defense gameplay. In that sense, there is a relative lack of innovation here, but that was to be expected if the developers wanted to hold on to the accessible nature of the original game.
Combining resource gathering and management, tower building and upgrading your defenses, this is a relatively formulaic but fun tower defense game. Levels are easy to complete as you only need one of your little Chibis to survive, but mastering their intricacies is required if you want to receive the rainbow fragments required to progress to the next major area in the game. There are five areas, and mastering one means getting good scores on all three levels in the area.
While completing a level is easy enough, you’ll quickly be forced to strategize when you start replaying levels in order to save more of your Chibis. This includes weapon placements as well as weapon selection, with weapons that specialize in ground-to-ground or ground-to-air, as well as weapons that can do both but deal less damage. Nothing comes for free though, so you’ll have to gather coins and gems to finance your defenses. This results in a balancing act where your goal is to maximize the damage that a unit does by placing it in a spot where plenty of enemies pass by that it can handle – and in later levels you’ll be selling off existing structures in order to protect new routes that your enemies are taking.
Each level consists of several waves that increase in difficulty as you progress. This means that the frustration that comes with losing during one of the last few waves is back as well, as is customary for a tower defense title. You’ll also engage in boss fights, with enemies that require more firepower to take down in addition to having to worry about the little minions they bring with them. It’s definitely not new or groundbreaking, but it’s familiar fun for PixelJunk Monsters fans – who will no doubt recognize pretty much everything I’ve said so far.
The real innovation in the game comes from both the graphics and the multiplayer gameplay. I was surprised at how gorgeous the game looks now that it’s switched to 3D – though you can still play with a more traditional overhead perspective and I assume that’s what most players will use. It gives you a better overview of the paths that enemies (might) take and helps you strategize, but it’s nice to be able to get up close and personal in 3D as well.
The other and perhaps most important new thing is the inclusion of multiplayer. You can play in local cooperative mode using a second controller (where you both use up the same pool of resources, so be sure to communicate!) or you can go online and play with a total of four players. We mainly experimented in local coop mode and it’s a lot of fun – it’s also a great way to show new players the ropes.
So while PixelJunk Monsters 2 doesn’t do too much to change its formula, let’s remember that we didn’t have a version of the game for the PS4 yet. That alone makes it a welcome new addition to the catalogue, especially if you’re interested in a little multiplayer tower defense.