PixelJunk Monsters 1 and 2 (Wii U and Switch)

Overcooked left a delicious taste in my mouth and spurred on the need for more couch co-op. Overcooked 2 was tempting but I recalled an interesting title on Wii U that I’d enjoyed playing solo. “Dance, Tikiman, dance” has become an oft-repeated refrain, thanks to playing through both PixelJunk Monsters games back to back.

The weird and wonderful cast of masked enemies in PixelJunk Monsters.

PixelJunk Monsters 1 was my first tower defence game, and so the sequel too was my second. My initial scepticism with the first game quickly gave way to rabid enjoyment, as the game (and genre) got its hooks in me. It turns out that laying down towers strategically to defend a base is no simple task. The difficulty steadily ramps up as the waves of enemies build up in strength and number. The threat of that next enemy wave (anywhere between 10 and 20 per level) serves as a constant motivation to build build build those defences in pursuit of a perfect record!

Two player improves an already mostly excellent experience. Regardless of which PixelJunk Monsters game you play, the challenge is always reduced by having two players. Having a second player gives you more mental space to concentrate on what you actually want to achieve, as opposed to my usual headless chicken strategy in singleplayer. Stand still on a tower and your Tikiman will start dancing, in service of levelling up that tower. Extra time to breathe with a second player on your side naturally means more levelled up towers, which in turn means stronger defence. Not that the game becomes a pushover – not by any means, since the solo game is extremely challenging. That’s especially true if you’re aiming for a “perfect” playthrough, which requires felling every foe before they touch your base.

The original PixelJunk Monsters.

Monsters’ second outing… in 3D.

One question I grapple with playing through both games back-to-back is which iteration I prefer. On balance I think the original is slightly better, but in many respects it’s a moot point – both games play virtually identically, with only minor tweaks to distinguish them. The main thing that distinguishes the sequel is that it is fully 3D with a new, striking art style. While that is mostly a good thing, this 3D sequel to the 2D original does have its drawbacks.

The most notable con of PixelJunk Monsters 2 are the hefty load times. My understanding is that, some time after the game’s release, an update fixed a problem with the initial release. Players can now zoom the camera out during two player mode – an improvement over a fixed camera tethered to player one. However in the process of improving the experience, the load times were also greatly increased. Doubled, according to one source I read! Returning to the world map, beginning a stage, retrying a stage – these all incur a load screen lasting a minimum of 15-20 seconds. It gets pretty wearying, especially given the first game’s near-instant load times after initial startup.

One change in the sequel is this gorgeous but utterly impractical third person camera mode. See how beautiful the graphics are, and lose at the game.

There are some positives to the sequel’s shift to 3D graphics. Stages now have height and depth in the shape of slopes, hills, crevasses and canyons. Your Tikiman can jump at will, jumping over grounded and running beneath airborne foes alike. Heights can be used to your advantage – a high placed tower has a larger range and, possibly(?) do more damage. My uncertainty about the second point speaks volumes. It’s a minor addition to a formula that is already rich with depth. In other words, none of the additions or tweaks in the second game substantially change the gameplay, to the point that they’re barely worth mentioning.

At the core, whichever game you try, PixelJunks Monsters is rather lovely. Mildly infuriating but completely satisfying. And resplendent with the “one more go” factor. Another great co-op experience to follow Overcooked.

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One comment

  1. moresleepneeded

    I have not played this game or any tower defence games. This game does seem to have a very light-hearted and cartoonlike design, particularly the idea of the characters dancing on top of the towers. The gameplay seems simplistic, although I can see how it could be difficult as well. The 3D design of the second game does seem like an improvement, although I can understand how the negative effects can be annoying. I was surprised to find a game like this was able to played as a 2-player game. The first person camera mode reminds me of a similar feature in Theme Park, Inc, it did not have any practical advantages, but it was enjoyable to explore the theme park in 3D.
    How was the 2 player game played? Was there a Story mode for the game? What are tower defence games?

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