Real Talk By: Zombie Zac
PixelJunk Monsters, released 11 years ago, was one of first examples of a great digital download game on PS3. It was one of the finest tower defense games of that time, a genre that hadn’t been watered down and beat to death by mobile games. With the iPhone in its infancy, and with no App Store, it was a different world when PixelJunk Monsters was released. Developer Q-Games went on to make several other ‘PixelJunk’ games, including a DLC pack for Monsters, but no sequel. Well, that is until out-of-the-blue PixelJunk Monsters 2 arrived in 2018 with almost no fan-fare or advertisement. Why wait over a decade to put a sequel out that, with all due respect, feels well past its time to receive a follow-up? And why do it without any kind of marketing? It immediately fell off the eShop best seller page in a matter of days and is now most likely spiraling in the black hole of overlooked indie games. It’s a shame because it’s a lot of fun.
In PixelJunk Monsters 2 the formula is the same as the first game. Your objective is to move a little tiki man around the game world and to construct defenses against an oncoming onslaught of bug-like creatures. Some are on land, some by air, some deviate from the path and at the end of several waves you fight a very powerful boss. If you happen to let one of these bug monsters get by your defenses they will kill one of your villagers. If you allow all twenty villagers to die, you fail the level. The hardest part about PixelJunk Monsters 2 is that in order to progress and unlock new areas, you not only have to beat a level, but you have to ‘Perfect’ it. That means you can’t let even one of your villagers bite the dust, and if you do, you might as well hit the pause menu and retry. This level of challenge brings out both the deeper elements of strategy in the game but also the frustration of having to sit through 15-20 minute rounds sometimes to just fail at the last minute.
There are different themed worlds, as you would expect, such as a desert, snowy mountains, grassy forests and they all look beautiful. The biggest upgrade from the original is the presentation as everything is now fully 3D and the camera can zoom in down behind your tiki man and it feels almost like you’re watching claymation animation. It looks great on the Switch, with the exception of some frame drops in busier moments. While I wish the frame rate was smoother, it doesn’t stop PixelJunk Monsters 2 from being enjoyable, and the game is still quite beautiful. While I haven’t tested it, my understanding is the PS4 and PC versions are 60 fps. To be clear, this isn’t the type of game where the 30-ish fps on Switch makes the gameplay worse, it just hurts the presentation a bit in places. That being said, it plays great in handheld mode, and the colors are vibrant and the creature design drips with style.
A great addition to the action is drop in and out co-op which is perfect for the Switch with it’s detachable Joy Con controllers. This 4 player mode allows some strategic gameplay where some players can hang back and grab the coins and diamonds enemies drop while the other players build. When you play alone, you have to make the decision to stop building to run and gather the loot from fallen enemies. It’s a fun way to involve other players, but to be honest, it doesn’t feel entirely necessary— and while it is online, I couldn’t find a single other player to play with so I couldn’t test it. If you have a friend who owns the game, this would be the best way to experience the online. I do appreciate that the infrastructure is there and wish more indie games on Switch included online multiplayer options, even if the player base is small.
While PixelJunk Monsters 2 provides some great tower defense strategy with a charming visual presentation, there is a creeping sensation that it is lacking content. The unlockables are cosmetic items for your tiki man and they aren’t that interesting. It would be nice if there were a few different gameplay modes, but instead it’s pretty much just all about hiking up the difficulty on the levels you have unlocked and getting ‘Perfect’ scores on them. There is DLC for the game but it brings only 3 new levels and 1 new defensive building to construct. Additionally, there are items you can pick up and buy in the levels that do things like slow down enemies but I found them all to be rather useless. All of this combined makes PixelJunk Monsters 2 feel a tad rushed, which is bizarre because it’s taken over a decade to even appear.
While I’m being critical of some things, I don’t want my recommendation of this game to be lost. What is here is a smart, fun, cooperative strategy game that fulfills a niche quite nicely on the Switch. There’s lots of room for experimentation with how you defend your villagers and there is skill in choosing how to use your time wisely during a round. Playing with friends is a fun addition and the online options are a nice for those who can’t find the time to get together. I appreciate that the visual overhaul was done and it looks great running on the Switch in handheld mode. For strategy fans or those into quirky art styles give PixelJunk Monsters 2 a purchase as at $15 it is an easy recommendation.
PixelJunk Monsters 2 Gets
3.5 Out of 5
+Beautiful art style
+4-player cooperative play
-Minor frame rate issues
-Small level count