A few levels into ‘Splosion Man you’ll find a rather large scientist with a particular fondness for doughnuts. Upon picking him up and using him as your own human shield, an original song about doughnuts, and how much everybody loves them, begins to play that could very easily rival the greatness of Portal’s galvanizing hit, Still Alive. This is just one example of one of the many moments in Twisted Pixel’s ‘Splosion Man that will bring a massive smile to your face; along with many that will turn that frown upside down as you struggle through its fifty, or so, frantic, sensational and frankly explosive levels.
It’s the perfect way to kick off this years Summer of Arcade as you take control of a giddy little experiment-gone-wrong who loves nothing more than exploding. Every face button on the controller makes him ‘splode, and it’s your job to guide him through each of the game’s 2D levels, utilizing his special ability in a variety of different ways. Whether it’s ‘sploding up ledges, ‘sploding off walls, ‘sploding the evil scientists, and even ‘sploding barrels; I think you get the picture. Essentially, in its most basic form, ‘sploding works as a jump and an attack. When jumping you can perform three explosions before running out of juice and needing to rest a bit to recharge. This means you can make it across large gaps, or use the wall jump to make it up to higher levels. It’s basic platforming 101, but ‘Splosion Man throws in plenty of wacky ideas to mix up the formula.
“The only way to escape is to hit a succession of inch-perfect jumps with no leeway for the slightest of mistakes.”Throughout the game’s first stage you’ll learn the basics to each mechanic, from ‘sploding off barrels to propel yourself higher, to using switches, dealing with moving objects and capitalizing on the different items you’re given – including Mr. Doughnut Lover. It’s easy to learn how everything works and how you need to use them to progress through the game, and the learning difficulty is just right so that once you become accustomed to the basics it will throw in some new ways to use them and shake up the formula. By the end of the game the ante is most definitely upped and you’ll need all your skills to succeed as impending doom is nearly always on your tail. It may come in the shape of deadly spikes, rising water or acid, laser beams or even giant robots, and the only way to escape is to hit a succession of inch-perfect jumps with no leeway for the slightest of mistakes. It may sound and look impossible, but the learning curve is so good that you should feel comfortable by the time you reach the third and final stage, with only a few of the game’s most outlandish obstacles causing any amount of difficulty.
Now, don‘t get me wrong, ‘Splosion Man certainly presents a challenge – and there’s definitely some frustration – but it never feels like the game is overly hard and cheating you out of progressing. It’s your own skill stopping you from completing the level, and thankfully, if you’re finding it too hard, there is an option to skip ahead if you end up dying too much. For those that persevere, you’ll find a game that encourages trial and error, with each death teleporting you back to the last checkpoint – of which there are many – with no load screens in sight. You’re meant to experiment and try difficult sections over and over again until you get comfortable and are ready to go back and attempt to set a time in the time trials. It’s like a retro game but without the annoyance of limited continues giving you the game over screen every few deaths. Old school gamers can appreciate its approach, and new players should enjoy the high intensity action it offers.
“Old school gamers can appreciate its approach, and new players should enjoy the high intensity action it offers.”Although you wouldn’t think this action and focus on precision jumps would transfer well to multiplayer, it does so surprisingly well. You can play with up to four players in a separate campaign consisting of another fifty levels. Here the gameplay changes a tad, consisting more of puzzles that rely on teamwork. Each player can ‘splode off of each other to get big jumps, so it’s a case of working together and getting the timing right to hit each jump successfully. It’s a lot of fun and the extra set of multiplayer specific levels adds longevity to what is already a relatively lengthy experience. For only 800 Microsoft Points, ‘Splosion Man provides plenty bang for your buck.
‘Splosion Man himself is certainly one of the characters of the year. Just like Twisted Pixel’s other effort, The Maw, ‘Splosion Man has a brilliant sense of humour. Its protagonist has an odd love of Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes, and he runs about the place like a kid overdosing on sugar. He’s not happy unless he’s exploding and he’ll let you know it, yelling out random phrases and spreading his arms out like he’s trying to fly. He’s a lunatic but it fits the Saturday morning cartoon style perfectly. It’s just a shame there’s a distinct lack of narrative because the other characters – however few they are – maintain the humour even in their brief appearances.
If you’re looking for a new Arcade game you can’t go wrong with ‘Splosion Man. It has a certain charm you can’t help but love and the precision based, high octane gameplay is one you’re going to keep coming back to. The boss battles disrupt the pacing and the lack of a narrative is disappointing when you consider the added comedy value it could produce, but the gameplay far outweighs any of its faults. Some may find it too difficult but you’ll want to persist to the very end just to see one of the greatest endings in a long, long time. Trust me, it’s truly genius.