When Crystal Dynamics released the original Pandemonium in '96, it had the misfortune of introducing a 3D-on-rails game at a time when titles such as Tomb Raider and Mario 64 were jump-starting the full 3D-platform bandwagon. It was the big fad of the time, if for no other reason than because full 3D seemed like the logical progression for the side-scrolling genre, and it's undoubtedly created some great games. But Pandemonium survived, at least heartily enough to earn a sufficient following to merit Crystal's creation of the sequel, Pandemonium 2.
The main characters, Nikki, Fargus, and Sid have gone through a few changes since the first game. Nikki, the once adolescent tomboy, is now a twenty-something sorceress styled to be the ultra-vixen incarnate, but her image falls slightly short of a more ambulatory Peg Bundy (of Married With Children fame). Fargus, the sophomoric, unpredictable jester has taken on a more pyromaniacal bent, while Sid, the fast-talking soul of an ancient warrior on a stick, has remained roughly the same. Sid comes into play more as a device than a character, as Fargus launches him at enemies or sends him to retrieve items that are just out of reach. Nikki and Fargus are on a quest to obtain the power of the Comet of Infinite Possibilities, a celestial body that flies over the land of Lyr every 300 years, for their warped, selfish purposes. Their antagonist is the evil, if well-intentioned, Goon Queen who seeks the Comet's magic for her own twisted agenda.
You dash through 19 levels in all, each with a different mission. In the Huevos Libertadi level, you'll free baby eggs from wire cages. In other levels, you'll simply try to reach the end of the course, avoiding obstacles, collecting treasure (500 baubles) that eventually provides an extra life, grabbing gold keys to gain access to bonus levels, new stages, and power-ups, and complete various tasks along the way. The P2 bosses include a fire-breathing dragon, the Evil Witch, The Egg, Stan the Man, Mr. Schnebelen, and the final, and most difficult, Buddha. These battles test the skills you have used throughout the game, adding new ones, such as the ball toss with Mr. Schnebelen. You are encased in a wooden container that is attached to the back of a tank. As it drives forward with you attached, you must avoid the balls Mr. Schnebelen throws as he runs behind you. As if in a tennis match, you volley the balls back toward him, attempting to strike him down before he destroys your vehicle.
Even though the game has the basic style and many of the same objectives as the original title, it's more than a redux with better graphics. Characters such as bipedal blue fish, watchdogs, Goons, the helpful, yet hazardous levitating bats, dragonflies, worms, praying mantis, and even mech-robots are present throughout P2 within the various levels. Some, such as the worms and fish, are fairly innocuous, and a simple jump on the head, a lightning strike, or a fireball will wipe them out. Naturally, the mech-robots pose a bit more of a problem. Likewise, you are equipped in these levels (Hate Tank and Collide-O-Scope) with mech-armor as well. In the aforementioned Hate Tank, Nikki or Fargus drives through a series of stages running over runts throwing grenades, shooting a minihelicopter, and avoiding or destroying gun turrets until the level is complete. In Collide-O-Scope, the mech-character battles gravity, falling through a vortex while avoiding exploding. Also in this stage, land combat with like-sized and -minded robots tests your ability to adjust from Nikki or Fargus' nimble movements to more clunky, weighty maneuvers.
Besides the additional characters, a multitude of old and new, interesting and often challenging obstacles are introduced, such as spinning fans, electrical fields, falling snowballs, fire geysers, spiky land mines, lava pits, and so on. But P2 consequently arms you with better power-ups, such as directional fireball projectiles, Fargus' ability to combust (igniting everything around him), and Nikki's deadly lightning jabs. And perhaps the best weapon against most of the impediments Nikki and Fargus encounter is their ability to climb ropes and chains, scale with their arms, and hoist themselves up onto edges and platforms.
Pandemonium (both versions) is known for plenty of jumps that you must time perfectly to execute successfully. In P2, the frustration level drops significantly due to the added climbing and catching feature, as most mushrooms and sky-high trampolines are just out of reach.
On the negative side, the combination 2D and 3D graphics are much smoother in this round, as you can at least differentiate between backgrounds and playable foregrounds; however, chaos is still king - occasionally to a fault. The blind jumps and uncertain paths are frustrating, to say the least. And while P2's levels are, for the most part, disparate, many maintain some original devices, such as running around the inside or outside of cylindrical rooms ending up exactly where you started off, unless you're adventurous from the get-go. This is an instantly confusing, but terribly effective trick, but as negatives go, it could be worse, and the learning curve for these levels is relatively short.
Overall, the graphics are better and more colorful, and the camera angles have become even more vomit-inducing than the original in that the backgrounds and foregrounds are still insane, but at least you can differentiate between the two, and the gameplay is satisfying, challenging, and surprisingly not monotonous. Put simply, it's a fun and mostly unpredictable platform game, in spite of not being fully 3D.