PixelJunk Monsters was a refreshing change from the glut of dual-stick shooters pervading console download services. Encore provides more of the same kind of strategic, trial-and-error gameplay, though it is aimed purely at fans yearning for an even greater challenge than the original offered. Indeed, the expansion is distinctly harder, so while it may contain fewer levels, it may take you longer to finish, particularly if you try to earn the ever-elusive rainbow reward bonus for each one. This is an expansion for dedicated fans only, but if you count yourself among them, you'll be pleased with this $5.99 download.
But first, a refresher on the basic gameplay. Wave after wave of monsters streams toward your vulnerable tribal village, and as a one-man construction crew, you turn trees into defense towers that blast those monsters into oblivion, leaving coins and upgrade jewels in their wake. This seems simple enough, but there's a surprising amount of depth. You must be conscious of how you spend your upgrade gems, consider destroying existing towers to make way for more efficient ones, and place your turrets in the locations they'll be most effective. It's also an exercise in time management, since you must balance the time you spend dancing in front of your towers (which causes them to advance in level more quickly) and running around collecting coins and gems.
The original was challenging; the expansion is much harder. Levels that would have seemed appropriate for medium and hard designations before are classified as easy now. The Paku-Paku level, for example, may pretend it's easy but will require multiple play-throughs until you get it right. By the time you get to levels like the pleasant-looking and murderously tough Amidargh, your brain may feel a little mushy. PixelJunk Monsters Encore is built around repetition, requiring multiple attempts at each stage until you memorize the monster patterns and place just the right collection of towers to counter them with. This kind of trial and error isn't for everyone, and there's even more of it now than before, but the gameplay is compelling enough to keep the repetition from getting annoying.
There aren't any major additions to the formula, though there are some small tweaks; some towers cost less, for example. On a happier note, there is additional music, which may offer some respite to ears worn out from the original's tiresome tinkles. The bad news is that the new music is still just as grating, relying on a similar pattern of chimes and clunks that seem cute the first time, but get more discordant the more you hear them. There are some new visuals, but overall, the game sports the same clean and colorful look as its predecessor.
As before, a second player can grab a controller and assist you with your dancing and gem-collecting, which makes PixelJunk Monsters Encore both less difficult and more fun. If you're a fan of the original, you'll find a lot to like about the add-on, with or without a friend to share in the amusement. The new levels are fun and addictive, and the gameplay is as hypnotic as ever. Just be ready to be challenged, because while it looks innocuous enough, Encore puts up a good fight.