Q-Games came pretty close to perfection with the first game. So we were damn pleased to hear it was getting a full-on sequel as we would have been psyched with a few extra DLC levels.
If you missed out first time around I'll quickly bring you up to speed. The dual-stick 2D shooter has you flying a small ship, rescuing miners, shooting enemies, and blasting, melting and burrowing your way through terrain looking for survivors, treasure and a way out.
Expect to fly around a huge worm-like creature's insides, abandoned mines and icy caves before the end credits role. Graphically, the game maintains the same style as before. No better, no worse. Which works just fine and lets us get straight down to business like we only finished the last game yesterday.
The ship's handling is perfectly responsive and there are plenty of fine touches to get your ass out of trouble when you need to get a move on. Quickly rotating the right stick swishes your ship around, activating a brief shield to cockily deflect enemy fire and also suck up any nearby points. New to the series is a spinning boost attack that hurtles you forwards in a straight line when you press R3 while spinning. It's a bit risky, as it can leave you vulnerable if you miss and land too close to an enemy.
Taps of R1 fire small missiles, while holding the button unleashes devastating homing missiles. Using the homing strikes heats up your ship, if it overheats it'll explode. The heat metre acts as the life bar with water pools cooling you down the quickest. Or you can just relax and let it cool naturally if you're away from lava. You can usually take a few hits from enemy fire before things get too hot.
Once again the environment is the biggest danger. Oil, flowing lava and fire-guzzling gas all return and are joined by new dangers such as acid and darkness. While stuck in the giant beast that swallows you at the start, you'll have to be careful of acid-spitting walls. If you get any on the ship you'll need to find a pool of water to wash it off before it eats through your hull. Gas bubbles will send your ship spinning out of control so keep an eye out for grappling points to help you through the creature's digestive tract.
Special suits for your ship return to enable you to fire out lava or water, or move through oil or lava unharmed. There are a few new ones too, such as the bone cutter that only moves in straight lines, adding a bit of extra strategy to your gameplan.
Later levels throw in a new mechanic of navigating through dark tunnels. Linger in the darkness and a swarm of eye-like creatures will smoother your ship. This sets up lots of intense darting runs as you look for breakable rocks to let in light or find glowing plants to drag around with you. Outlines of miners and treasure can be seen in the darkness but they can only be collected once illuminated. To be honest there are too many of these stages with hidden enemies and lots of painful restarts.
The whole game feels harder than the original which was relatively simple to complete, even with the long-winded boss fights. The main draw was going back to find all the hidden gems or any miners that you may have missed. The same goals are present again, but when the levels are this tough, you might think once was enough.
It's the lack of checkpoints in the levels that make life difficult. Be prepared to get screwed out of a victory by plenty of sneaky enemies appearing on your way to the recently opened exit. At least once you know the locations of enemies and stranded miners it's not so bad redoing the level to get back to where you died.
The most soul-breaking deaths are those during the boss fights. These bastards are even tougher than the first game. Huge health bars, limited windows to attack and varying attack patterns will appeal to fans of old-school, rock-hard challenges.
A great way to counter the game's toughness is to get a friend involved with two player co-op. It's the same game but with two of you working together, although points are tallied at the end of a stage. If one dies, you needn't worry about the cruel lack of checkpoints as you'll respawn after a few -sometimes very long- seconds as long as the other player stays alive. Get ready for endless panicked shouts of “Don't' Die!” It's local co-op only though and it's a big disappointment that we can't team up online. It's not drop-in either, probably to make it easier to keep the leaderboards separate.
Instead of online co-op we have a new competitive online multiplayer mode. Put simply, it's capture the flag with two players taking turns to attempt to steal miners and drop them back in their scoring zone while the defender tries to take the other player out.
Variety is added with an impressive range of unlockable weapons and abilities like radar, homing rockets, control reversing EMPs and teleporters. It's not particularly fun to play though and doesn't make up for the lack of online co-op at all. Hell, a simple four-way deathmatch would have been preferable to this.
The online multiplayer is an optional extra though and doesn't detract from the impressive single-player game, which is an engrossing challenge that should be attractive to fans of the first game.
- Same great gameplay as the original
- Forces fans to up their game
- £6.29 is a great price
- Extra difficulty may put some players off
- No online co-op
- New online modes are average
The Short Version: It's hard to recommend to gamers that didn't enjoy the original. But if you did, you really can't ignore it at this price. Yes, it's harder, but the majority of the core gameplay is the same as the first brilliant game. When you do finally beat the last boss, it's hard to ignore the missed gems and survivors and you'll find yourself drawn in once again despite the beatings.