Toxic II, baby. It's here. In a world where machines rule over humanity with a literally iron fist, a lone, slightly overweight, Hazmat-suited warrior must discover and destroy the robot overmind. That's right, it's Man Versus Mechanaloid: Rumble in the Nuclear Waste Processing Plant, brought to you by the tireless pixel pushers at Nitrome, and sponsored by MTV Arcade.
In case you never played the first Toxic, the hook here is the deformable terrain. The explosions from your arsenal can carve holes and tunnels in certain walls, as well as blow up bad guys, of course. The controls are pretty standard: [WASD] or [arrow] keys for movement, [space] to set bombs. You start off with a simple throwable grenade on a timer, but later in the game, you'll get to use a diverse selection of weapons, including a remote-controlled exploding spider-bot and a bomb that doubles as a floating platform.
There are 20 levels full of killer robots and pitfalls between you and the mysterious Mother, but there are also 10 hidden levels, located in various out-of-the-way places. If you think the normal levels are hard (and you will), then wait till you experience the crazy beatings the optional levels dish out. It's worth finding them all though, because they are home to some of the coolest monsters in the game.
Analysis: The biggest difference between Toxic II and its predecessor is definitely the speed. The frame rate is now fast enough to make the action feel smooth and responsive, which means that Toxic II, more than any other Nitrome work to date, feels like a classic run 'n jump platform game. On the other hand, your weapons always take a few seconds to detonate, meaning you'll often need to pause between stretches of activity. Levels therefore take a fairly long time to complete, which makes it all the more tragic when you dive, yet again, into acidic sludge right before you reach the exit.
I took some time to adjust to the difficulty, so I want to give you fair warning. Though you have a reasonably generous life bar for surviving robot attacks and explosions, you only need dip one toe into the nuclear waste to trigger your flesh-dissolving death animation. The new frame rate feels great, but it also demands hair-trigger reflexes, especially during wall-jumping.
The environmental interaction is much more consistent this time around; if you can see a piece of wall or flooring, it's probably solid. But some unforgiving hit detection takes its toll — some of the larger enemies can damage you without physically touching you. Your own weapons are some of the gravest threats to your survival. Their explosions linger just a little bit longer than you might expect, and they damage you from slightly further away. If you find yourself trapped on a small island with a misplaced bomb, you can't jump and stay in the air long enough to avoid the blast. You just have to grit your teeth and take it.
A worse problem is the slightly unreliable physics. It's no good, when you're plunging towards a sea of toxic green ooze, knowing that your deployable platforms will appear under your feet only 95% of the time.
So you may get frustrated with Toxic II, but I urge you to stick with it, because it has a ton of good ideas. Your platform bombs can break your fall, but they can also be used to block lasers firing at you from overhead. You can employ conveyor belts to carry weapons to specific targets. The way you constantly have to solve puzzles with explosives gives the game a strong sense of identity. And the bosses, although there aren't very many of them, take terrific advantage of your character's strengths and weaknesses.
So I'm happy to report that, despite some lingering roughness around the edges, Toxic II is a winner. If you liked the first game, you'll love this one; and if you had criticisms, they've mostly been addressed. Just brace yourself to take many an acid bath.
The game can also be played at the MTV Arcade.