Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Developer: Twisted Pixel
Twisted Pixel 'sploded onto Xbox Live Arcade and into our hearts with a truly anarchic platformer. Splosion Man was a hardcore masterpiece that demanded perfection from its players, yet treated them to outrageous humour, fantastic co-op and a truly obscene amount of content. It was quite unlike anything else on the market... until now.
Now this original breath of fresh air, this joyous masterclass in rebellion from an ascendant indie darling, has a sequel. Is it selling out or worth shelling out for?
In terms of storyline, all you need to know is that the original Splosion Man has been trapped by Big Science... but they've inadvertently created an equally psychopathic pink counterpart who's, erm, a girl. Naturally our new heroine is every bit as insane, adorable and deadly as her boyfriend/predecessor/orange chum and sets out on her own trail of destruction.
And that's your lot, because Ms Splosion Man isn't about exposition. It's about harking back to the days when games refused to hold your hand and guide you through pretty cinematic cutscenes - and instead punished you with split-second platforming mechanics and checkpoints spaced far enough apart to trigger bouts of uncontrollable rage. And, of course, it's about 'sploding.
Like the original Splosion Man, our new pink pal only has a single ability: spontaneous detonation. This powerful explosion is a triple-jump, wall jump and deadly offensive weapon all rolled into one; and though it sounds limited, the sprawling levels use a selection of exploding barrels, trampolines, hazards and tight corridors to brutal advantage. Forget thinking in portals. Before long, you'll be thinking in Splosions. The stages contain a generous mix of tough platforming sections, puzzles and even some enjoyable boss battles - and though it isn't easy, the experience offers a reasonable level of challenge that delivers huge amounts of adrenaline and endorphins. You'll need perfect timing, Rain Man levels of pattern recognition and the patience of a saint... but the feeling of finally beating a tough level is well worth it.
It's not perfect, mind, as Twisted Pixel haven't actually fixed the problems that were inherent to the sequel. Sploding is an imprecise affair at best, and even after suffering through the incredibly long (and non-interactive, hiss) tutorial, you'll frequently find your jumps to be far too unpredictable to be satisfying. What's more, it's easy to lose track of Ms Splosion Man amidst all of the pink pyrotechnics. Even though practise is essential, you'll still fluff the odd jump through no fault of your own.
Some new additions to the gameplay formula help to punch things up a bit. Zip lines and cannons will help you get from A to B in record time, and Ms Splosion Man can possess a portly lass called Mandy [not Martha, thanks Late] to dodge her way past lasers and other obstacles. Naturally, of course, she has her own outstanding theme tune that's well worth listening to. Our personal favourite new are pink panels that allow our heroine to splode an infinite number of times while in front of them. Working out how best to use these areas to advantage is an exciting change of pace compared to the careful rationing you'll otherwise have to employ.
However, a few of these new features almost exclusively serve to take the action out of your hands. Firing between cannons is a laugh, but all you're doing is watching and flicking the stick occasionally. Zip lines might as well be one-button Quick Time Events. And speaking of QTEs, you might be a little surprised to see them rear up from time to time. Despite these flourishes, the campaign does suffer from repetition two thirds of the way through and feels unmistakeably padded towards the end.
One gamer's padding is another's value, though, and it's worth stating that Ms Splosion Man would be a bargain at twice the price. 800 Microsoft Points nets you a massive singleplayer campaign with downloadable ghosts, shoes to collect and a massive shop full of unlockables and free avatar awards. Not only that, but the multiplayer mode once again provides its own standalone campaign which dwarfs the original in terms of scope and scale. It's a blast (sorry) by yourself, but with a few friends, the cooperative experience is just as rewarding as Portal 2. Note that it's imperative to use a headset when playing online - so either get one or get off the servers.
When all is said and done, Ms Splosion Man is more of the same. Which is fine by us.
I'm genuinely can't decide whether the new protagonist is a work of sheer genius or pure sexism. Or both. Ms Splosion Man minces about and sings off-key girl power songs at every opportunity; obsessed by shoes, shopping and kissing boys. Her behaviour inspires equal amounts of raucous laughter and embarrased cringing - but though her gags frequently misses the mark (especially after hearing the same samples a few times), her hilarious idle animations and inappropriate movie quotes quickly win out.
The humour is a surreal mix of the sublime and the ridiculous. Ms Splosion Man is nowhere near as self-indulgent as Comic Jumper (that purposefully attempted to hide its shallow, dull and repetitive grind behind a wacky masquerade) and is much better for it; complimenting the solid gameplay and rewarding us with ludicrous live action cutscenes and the most unpredictable of shenanigans. And possibly the most unexpected classic NES reference ever. There's nothing less funny than someone trying too hard to get laughs - and after Comic Jumper's unmistakeable stink of cynicism and vanity, Ms Splosion Man is back on top form.
- Sweet, cerebral and clinical platforming
- Frequently hilarious
- Packed with value - levels, modes and unlockable rewards
- Not much in the way of innovation or new content
- Still a little clunky; aggravating checkpoint locations
- Sexist much?
The Short Version: Ms Splosion Man is More Splosion Man. Lots more. It's not quite as quirky as Twisted Pixel would like you to believe, but if you're spoilin' for more Splodin, this 800 Point package is an essential purchase.