As sequels go, "PixelJunk Shooter 2" excels, bringing the familiar environment from the first game together with new enemies and elements that tweak the experience for the better, all the while continuing the story of the modern 2-D space shooter.

Aptly subtitled "The Belly of the Beast," "PixelJunk Shooter 2" starts your rescue ship off immediately after the end of the first game; the opening of the game's three areas being (spoilers for the first "PixelJunk Shooter") the inside of the giant alien worm that swallowed your ship at the end of the last game.

But whereas the danger level of the molten planetary core of the original game was high, the sequel proves there are things worse than lava, and the poisonous gas and bile of an alien worm monster is indeed quite deadly.

While the first game put you against environmental liquids like lava and oil, which can overheat your ship's system to the point in which you'd crash and burn, poison screws up your controls and slows your movement, making sure you can't evade harm. The only way to combat the effect is to nose dive into a pool of water and wash the stuff off, though the H2O reserves are strategically placed to make that tricky.

Like the first game, you're on a rescue mission. Scientists have been exploring an uncharted planet only to discover hostile alien life that attacked and stranded them. Players must fly their ship, using the left analog stick to move and the right stick to aim, and escape the planet while taking as many people with them as possible. The left triggers expel your grappling, used both to rescue survivors and snag environmental objects, and your right triggers fire. Holding the button down fires a slew of homing missiles, but quickly builds up the overheating meter. Proximity to lava will slowly build your meter, as well, while getting shot will sky rocket the meter. Once full, you'll lose almost all control of the ship and slowly fall toward the nearest hard surface. You'll explode on impact unless you land in water, which has a cooling effect.

Back are the suits from the first game, as well as a couple of interesting additions. While you can still take control of the Inverse Suit (you shoot lava, heat keeps your engines stable, and water harms you) and the Anti-Magnet Suit (deflecting gushes of oil as well as some attacks) the Hunger Suit adds chomping teeth to your ship. While this helps you bite through cave walls you otherwise would not be able to penetrate, your weapons are disabled and your movement is confined to left, right, up, and down spaces instead of the full range of space.

The frequency of which this suit comes up in Episode 4 can be frustrating ("PixelJunk Shooter" contained Episodes 1-3, the sequel ranges from 4-6), but it helps vary the gameplay from the original title early on.

The Light Suit is the most interesting of the bunch, though. While Episode 4 has you contend with heavy bedrock and poisonous bile and Episode 5 weathers the extreme elements, Episode 6 pulls you through darkness. This is new to the series and is a fun surprise two-thirds of the game through. Your ship must navigate through poorly lit caverns, the catch being that if you stay in an unlit area for any amount of time at all, aliens swarm your ship, slow you down and overheat your engines to the point of death. The most effective way to combat this is the Light Suit, which is similar to the Anti-Magnet Suit -- but instead of becoming invincible to oil, you become invincible to the harm that darkness brings.

While "PixelJunk Shooter 2" does a great job of adding new elements to a game that could easily be part of the last one -- you might not even notice the separation if played back to back with no title screen -- it maintains its old school sensibility. It contains its own brand of environmental puzzles to keep you thinking while blasting away at the ugly threatening to murder the researchers. You might have to cool lava by clearing a path to make water flow, pull a variety of switches (all at once, sometimes) to release flammable gas that when ignited will burn through ice, or follow a well-planned maze --and all of these puzzles are clever to some degree.

"PixelJunk Shooter 2: The Belly of the Beast" is a great sequel to a great game, and will even stand well without knowledge of part one. The variations on levels, enemies and new elements make for a new experience in familiar territory -- but that's a good thing. There's no re-imagining and no change in art direction for this sequel (I'm looking at you, "Xenosaga: Episode II"), it's just the kind of straight fun and frustrating challenge you'd find at an arcade machine when you have a sock full of quarters and the entirety of a skipped school day to focus.

Pick this one up and tell your friends to do the same. They won't regret it.

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Video Games: 'PixelJunk Shooter 2: The Belly of the Beast'

Article: Copyright © Tribune Media Services