Tower defence games are tricky things, I reckon. At their worst – and their worst is generally still pretty entertaining – they can feel a bit like clicker games. You buy stuff and place stuff and the enemies obligingly shuffle on through your maze, but the challenge has been eaten away by the sheer overwhelming force on your side and so you’re left just watching the numbers change – one side’s health being whittled down, another side’s loot slowly pooling. You get a hint of the hidden life of maths, sure – the way that one enemy, placed in the middle of a line of troops, will make it much further on their health than those in front or behind do – but it’s an empty, sugary sort of game when the designer’s attention starts to slide.
In PixelJunk Monsters the designer’s attention never did, however, and in PixelJunk Monsters 2 it still doesn’t. This is an odd sequel – many things are completely unchanged, while a handful of the tweaks can initially feel a little arbitrary – but there is beauty in it nonetheless. Some of the beauty lies with the original design, but there’s one big addition that, for my money, makes things surprisingly fresh.
Superficially, it is business as usual. You’re Tikiman, running around in a series of cheery environments, protecting your village and its inhabitants from wave after wave of invaders. The art style has moved on, from flat cartoons in the first game to something claylike and chunky here – an old children’s animation perhaps, not quite as weird and Soviet as the aesthetic employed in Q-Games’ glorious oddity The Tomorrow Children, perhaps, but still something that invokes stop-motion handicraft with its harshly-lit sets and plasticine models with pipe-cleaner skeletons tucked inside.
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