Tower Defence games have long been part of the gaming lexicon, a genre that used to be considered synonymous with browser and flash games. The aim is always the same: stop the creeps getting to the centre of the maze, thereby protecting your life total and allowing you to progress onward. The genre has since become a mainstay on mobile with the occasionally outing on consoles, with developers often attempting to do something a bit different with the genre.
Pixeljunk Monsters 2 isn’t trying to reinvent the tower here, there is nothing particularly standout about it in terms of the gameplay it offers. Just as with the very popular original, you make towers, they shoot things, you get money, you upgrade the towers, all standard stuff here. What it does do, is take that formula and polish it until it shines.
The big difference here is how the game looks, which is nostalgic in its own way. Compared to the hand drawn art style of the original, this game now has 3D graphics in the vein of Q-Games’ previous effort, The Tomorrow Children. There’s a weird level of shine to it that makes it almost look like claymation, which looks and plays well even on Nintendo Switch. It feels like something that could have been out on an older console, but at the same times feels very modern as well. It’s unusual to have an oxymoronic visual style, but Pixeljunk Monsters 2 somehow manages it.
You play Tikiman, protector of the Chibis, who are not big headed cutesy versions of anime and game characters. Your role is to defeat the incoming monsters by replacing the trees in each level with a variety of different towers. The towers come in three different flavours with ground, anti-air, and all purpose towers. Within each of these categories are different varieties that all have their own strengths, weaknesses and, of course, costs.
Each tower costs some combination of Gold and Gems, which you earn by defeating the incoming hordes. The better the tower, the higher the cost, though you can also try to upgrade your towers, either spending gems on them, allow them to keep killing the monsters, or you can stand next to them and do a sweet dance in order to slowly upgrade them. This adds a surprising amount of strategy into each level. Sometimes the best thing to do is run around planting new towers, but if you know that one is better placed than the others, then you can dance some strength into it and have it become the cornerstone of your defence.
Where other games will automatically give you gold for each fallen enemy, Pixeljunk just drops the money on the ground around where they died and you have to go and collect it with your Tikiman. If the monster happened to be near an abyss or a river when they died, well then there is a chance that your hard earned loot will never be spent on anything, but hey, at least the fish are happy.
It’s a weird thing to have to worry about, as sometimes the best position for a tower in terms of damage output might be the worst position if you want to keep your funds up, and it adds some really interesting moments on some maps that really change up how you make your decisions.
Each level can be pretty challenging, even on the easier difficulties. The monsters can change paths depending on the wave, which can suddenly leave you incredibly vulnerable, especially if you don’t have enough anti-air towers and suddenly face a wave of flappy nightmares. Naturally your second attempt will be more successful with this in mind, but it is still surprising that a difficulty setting called “Fun” can just ruin your run out of nowhere. When the easy mode is challenging, you know you are in for something that requires effort.
Pixeljunk Monsters 2 is a very solid entry in the tower defence genre. The little things it has changed make for some really interesting choices when it comes to tower placement and co-op play makes it much more replayable. Graphically the game is stunning in it’s own way and will keep you invested in the tree-destroying, tower-building, funky-dancing gameplay as you progress through the increasingly tricky levels until the end. It suffers from the same issues prevalent in any TD game but is a solid entry nevertheless.
Version tested: Nintendo Switch
Also available on PlayStation 4 and PC