PixelJunk Monsters 2 (Switch) Review – Clustered with Junk?
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PS4
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft Inc.
Release: 25th May 2018 (NA)
Tower Defense games are great, requiring both tactics and a strategy from the player in order to be completed. While the web is flooded with cheap flash games though, there occasionally are some true gems, delivering a nearly perfect execution. One of those games was the original PixelJunk Monsters, featuring both a deep gameplay and amazing visuals. Now, years after the first one, Q-Games finally released the sequel Pixeljunk Monsters 2. With the demo, they won me over but can this game keep me as amazed?
The base concept is more than just simple: Protect the adorable Chibis from monsters. To do so, PixelJunk Monsters 2 relies on a very classic tower defence gameplay. Every map is quite huge, offering multiple paths and a lot of space to build! Naturally, all those things eventually conclude in the biggest appeal of the genre: Strategy. In this one, even more than in the first one, choosing the right things to start a round and their location is a crucial factor.
While tower placement should come naturally to anyone, who can understand how useless towers can be when built in the middle of nowhere, creating effective combos is another thing. From light turret towers, known from pretty much any title, to AOE ones able to deal massive damage to groups. Yet, when built alone, no powerful defence structure can do much against the hordes of spiders and other creatures coming for your cute little underlings. Instead, you need support ones as well then, built to support you big hitters through slowing down enemies, optionally in spots where smaller ones can profit from them as well. Wait though, what if bosses come around the corner, who are often unimpressed by AOE turrets? Better upgrade the arrow ones and actually, let´s build some anti-air ones as well, while we´re at it. You know the drill of those games and it works just as great here.
Where Q-Games separate themselves from other games, is the Tikiman. He isn´t only the player´s builder, which we can move around the map to build towers but also a moving buff. When upgrading towers, he can dance to shorten the needed time but beware not to touch any monsters, as you lose coins then! Speaking of which, PixelJunk Monsters 2 has a rather interesting currency system. Instead of gaining coins with every killed monster by default, they will simply explode into coins, forcing Tikiman to throw himself into the action and collect them. Sadly, that doesn´t always work well. I can´t count the times anymore when I lost coins because they dropped on cliffs or into the sea, resulting in me having fewer resources.
Particularly when your game is all about playing efficiently to not let any monster slip by your defences, what will happen anyway, trust me. Throughout the game, your hub will only ever have 20 lives, making every mistake all the more grave. Yet, at the same time, I often found myself in situations where I only needed a few coins to upgrade my towers, which sadly were on top of unreachable hills, letting the experience feel all the more frustrating.
Frustration is also one of the new “core” aspects with this game, the more you play, the more you will see just how many little things grind between the wheels. The biggest one is definitely the lack of any map overview, due to the removed complete zoom. Instead, the camera is glued on top of Tikiman, observing him how he wanders around the map, able to only see a chunk of it the whole time. In a game revolving all around predicting paths and behaviour, that´s a huge problem, practically restricting the fun of everyone involved. Now, imagine, combining this with the removal of a fast-forward button, reducing the overall pace to the lowest possible and you have a deadly mix for frustration once you fail a level. Forced to endure every easy wave, without being able to speed the action up, quickly became a giant turn-off for me in later levels. Especially when some losses were caused by the lacking map awarness or lack of coins.
Unfortunately, the overall rather short length with 15 missions doesn´t allow for much diversity either, making you replay the same ones over and over again. Since you can buy new masks and towers with earned coins, PixelJunk Monsters 2 effectively urges you to replay the whole game a few times. However, when every map becomes more and more repetitive with every new attempt, even this becomes a chore. Despite the fact all those masks and towers sound and look really great, I never got past this huge wall of repetition combined with frustrating boredom.
Even though every time I look at the game, screenshots or the world map alone, which serves as a hub world for selecting levels and stuff, I´m marvelled by its beauty every single time. Q-Games recently became masters of the clay-like graphics style, delivering one of the most unique, adorable looking tower defense games I´ve ever seen. Often Keyarts or screenshots never fully picture a game´s beauty, here, it´s actually quite the opposite, as PixelJunk Monsters 2 is breathtakingly beautiful in real life. I truly fell in love with this childish, colourful style. Additionally, the soundtrack is just the right, calm fit for the experience, if only the game wouldn´t suffer from so many inconsistencies. Only the Switch performance seems a bit dazzling, forcing the console to ramp up its fan to almost unbearable degrees in handheld mode.
PixelJunk Monsters 2 is one of the saddest developments I experienced this year. I loved both the first game and demo, really, nearly everything about them. However, now that I spent several more hours with this brilliantly looking game, I can´t help but feel annoyed by it. Be it the repetition enforcing design, slow pacing and other little things, resulting in a way more stretched out experience. While those things may not seem relevant at first, they become bigger and bigger problems with every second. Combined with the rubber-banding Coop, I can´t bring myself to like it just as much as the first one.
[A Review Code was provided by Spike Chunsoft]