Game Review: ‘Ms. Splosion Man’ for XBox Live Arcade

Two summers ago, the world was first introduced to ‘Splosion Man, an ADHD platforming antihero with a penchant for cake just trying to escape a spanning scientific lab where he was being held. And as much as we loved him, (**Spoiler**) he didn’t end up fully escaping at the end of ‘Splosion Man. The opening of Ms. Splosion Man shows the origin of this new breed of estrogen fueled insanity. Ms. Splosion Man takes the core concepts of the original title and, much in the way that Ms. Pac Man became a more challenging version of Pac Man, ups the ante for 2D platformers yet again.

Gameplay:

Ms. Splosion Man is one of the most complicated simple games of the last generation. In the same way that ‘Splosion Man and Super Meat Boy had incredibly simple mechanics, jump and blow stuff up and jump and don’t die (respectively), Ms. Splosion Man leaves players with a controller with a bunch of buttons that all do the same thing: ‘splode. What Ms. Splosion Man did do however was come up with new ways to ‘splode and objects to ‘splode into, out of and on to.

The treadmills have returned as well as the atomic green barrels that launch Ms. Splosion Man across levels. But new items have found their way in to the mad labs. Jetson like flying cars populate the world, giving moving (and crashing) platforms for Ms. Splosion Man to traverse.

There are also rotating cannons, much like those exploding barrels of Donkey Kong Country, requiring both timing and aiming of players to shoot their little pink lady across levels. Barrels sometimes descend slowly with propellers being added to them and floating, rotating atomic green platforms that sort of resemble an original metroid can be found throughout the game as well.

As a result of these and other new mechanics, levels feel fresh and new and have tons more challenge and replayability. The game also now includes a Ghost Mode where they can compete against their friends and leaderboard high scorers as well.

Not surprisingly, the wimp out feature is still an option in the game, giving players a free pass to skip through difficult levels. This time though instead of wearing a tutu, players will find their Ms. Splosion Man with a much larger posterior.

The interesting thing is that the mechanics of the game are so tight and well done, failing a level doesn’t frustrate players to become annoyed with the game. Every time they die, it is their fault for not properly timing a jump or ‘sploding the right barrel. Mature players will not only respect this, but appreciate as this design harkens back to the classic 8-bit era where games rewarded persistence and skill as opposed to many of today’s games that baby players through.

Story & Presentation:

Much like the original ‘Splosion Man, Ms. Splosion Man takes the simple premise of escaping the mad scientists’ lab and stretches it over the course of nearly 100 levels between single and multiplayer. Also like the original, there is a very basic setup which has players traverse through a series of levels avoiding a constant stream of death traps and meeting one of three major bosses, one for each world. In between is filled with a plethora of pop culture references ranging from movie quotes to the past twenty years of pop music and even a “Truly, truly, truly outrageous,” from 80’s cartoon pop sensation Jem.

The references themselves are fine but much like the repetitive nature of the original, eventually some of these start to grate on a player, especially when going through challenging sections of the game. Someone can only hear the phrase, “These boots are gonna ‘splode all over you,” so many times before it feels redundant.

The game’s better utilized in engine cutscenes however are a welcomed improvement to the original’s formula. Animations flow seamlessly in and out of gameplay to cutscenes to further the pop culture onslaught.

Graphics and Sound:

The basic 3D in a 2D world looks and works perfectly with the style of gameplay Ms. Splosion Man employs. Levels are given awesome form, texture and life while still maintaining their simplistic and sensible original design. With the addition of foreground and background (2 1/2D) to the series, this design’s simplicity proves itself even more valuable as players cannot risk getting caught in the clutter in an already difficult title.

Early in the game, the voiceover in the tutorial is amazing. The writing and delivery pay homage to classic informational programming in such a fantastic and condescending way that you don’t want it to end… but then it does. After that, scientists become gibbering morons that are as coherent as the Sims in conversation. Ms. Splosion Man can never seem to have enough dialogue as players will quickly cycle through all of it within the first third of the game.

Overall:

Ms. Splosion Man, a title actually predicted by this reviewer the second that TwistedPixel hinted at announcement that should not be “missed”, does a great job at a fantastic price. Many full retail titles aren’t as fleshed out, challenging and fun as this one. And instead of being a rehash of the original, Ms. Splosion Man takes a hint from games like Portal 2 to continue to innovate while maintaining the original title’s design philosophy. Ms. Splosion Man is a must play for any XBox Live Arcade download collection. Up next for TwistedPixel, their Kinect debut with the Gunstringer.

XBox Live Arcade

Publisher: Microsoft

Developer: TwistedPixel

Price: 800 Microsoft Points ($9.99)

Score: 8.0

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