Review: Ms. Splosion Man (XBLA)
Sequels are always kind of awkward to review. If they don’t change the game enough, people get upset. If they change it too much, people get upset. It’s a constant battle to find that thin line between too much and too little change, combined with the difficult task of building on your previous success. As a reviewer, it can become difficult to dissect the game in the normal fashion, namely because it isn’t an original concept anymore. Often, this leaves you with only one real way to approach the game: to ask the question, how does it compare? Is it still fun a second time around? Fortunately for Ms. Splosion Man, the short answer is, “Yes,” although there is a “but” following.
For the most part, Ms. Splosion Man takes the same-but-bigger approach to sequels. If you ever spent any time with Splosion Man than this will be an immediate pick-up-and-play situation. Basically everything about how the game plays, from its’ physics to obstacles, is very similar to its’ predecessor. You are granted three explosions before you need to recharge with certain items, such as explosive barrels providing an extra boost and refueling. Making use of the items in the environment, and lots of splodin’, each level consists of surviving the often difficult and very complicated path to the end. It is like an American Gladiators obstacle course (if the gladiators were combustible aliens). Everything is timed, and points are given based on your ability to pass the level quickly. But really, it’s about making it to the end and moving on to the next level.
The levels vary from moderate difficulty all the way to rage-inducing, “I swear I’m going to beat the person who designed this stage” level of difficulty. Probably one of the largest complaints about Splosion Man was that the game was overwhelmingly difficult at times, requiring large amounts of precise timing and positioning over a surprisingly long period of time. Fortunately (or unfortunately), that hasn’t changed. Often, I found myself breathing a deep sigh of relief when I saw a check-point after a long stretch of very difficult tasks. There was even one instance where I was so fed up with a stage that I simply set the controller down and walked away for a couple of hours.
The difficulty is brought on, in part, by the same problem that plagued the first game; less-than-perfect controls and scenarios you simply have no chance of passing on a first attempt. Now, I’m fully aware that no one should expect precise movements and control of a character that explodes as a mode of transportation, but unfortunately, at times the game certainly seems to do just that. A bigger issue for me, though, was the amount of times that you only would have made it by luck on a first try. So many areas required you to basically know where you had to go before you got there. There certainly are times where the game feels cheap in its effortless ability to kill you. I never encountered a level I couldn’t eventually beat, but consider it a warning to those who were turned off by the difficulty of the first; it is more of the same with Ms. Splosion Man.
That isn’t to say the game isn’t fun. The overwhelming majority of the time you’ll enjoy splodin’ your way through the levels, all while enjoying the odd, quirky sense of humor that comes along with a Twisted Pixel game. The super-difficult sections are often sandwiched between significantly easier areas, or in many cases, are the only really difficult section of a level. This helps to keep you from throwing the controller at your screen, screaming and upsetting your roommates/wife/kids/old woman next door with her hearing aid too high, etc. Most of the “puzzles,” while precisely laid out, aren’t overwhelmingly clever. But you will often feel some pride in having bested a difficult area. Twisted Pixel games are only partly about the gameplay though. As I said before, Ms. Splosion Man is full of the same humor and wit of previous outings.
Beginning with a reference to Predator at the end of the first level, I found myself laughing out loud (or “loling,” as the teenagers say), quite often. Not every joke was genuinely deserving of a laugh, but many cracked a smile and only a few bordered on annoying or simply not funny. The character of Ms. Splosion Man is a little hit-or-miss, though. The best way to describe it would be the over-the-top, hyperactive craziness of Splosion Man, combined with Alicia Silverstone’s character in Clueless. Spouting one-liners from some of the worst chick flicks and chick bands, mostly from the 90’s, she even occasionally mimicked talking on a cell phone while rambling on about something mildly incoherent from time to time. Oh, and the shoes. This time around rather than collecting delicious cake you are on the hunt for hidden shoes. Honestly, if it weren’t so over-the-top, Ms. Splosion Man would border on being at least a little insulting to women. They never do cross that line, managing to stay comical, but once or twice I was left wondering if the people at Twisted Pixel learned all they know about women from teen films in the 90’s. The developers seemed to know that the character was a bit much as well. One “game tip” that appears on the loading screen talks about turning down her volume. Overall though, Ms. Splosion Man manages to be more funny than annoying as a character and has much more personality than her male counterpart did.
Outside of the main character’s gender, the biggest changes the prefix “Ms.” brings are largely aesthetic. There are three different worlds to splode through, each with a distinct look, and these worlds do look bigger and better than what we saw in Splosion Man. There is new music, including a very odd, but funny, song about a girl named Mandy. And of course, Ms. Splosion Man herself is more of a character this time around. The game still suffers from some of the problems the first one did, such as rooms so big that the camera is forced to pan out leaving you with a small pink dot to control, and moments when so much is going on, it is very difficult to keep track of where you are on the screen. While these moments are mostly forgiving, there are times where they will result in death and you will curse loudly.
I feel like I’ve ripped on this game more than I’ve built it up, and I’m not sure that is fair. Under it all, Ms. Splosion Man has the same qualities that made Splosion Man a hit. It is a fun, challenging platformer that requires a bit of forethought and a lot of good timing. Visually pleasing and mostly solid game mechanics help to propel a twisted but comical character though largely comical situations that are fun to play. There is plenty of it all packed into one tiny package as well, offering tons of levels in both single player and co-op modes (each with a different set of levels) along with unlockable extras like themes and avatar awards. I do have to say that I think the game is best enjoyed in spurts, where the stacking difficulty doesn’t begin to frustrate you. Really, it comes down to how you felt about the first one. Fans of Splosion Man, of which there are many, are going to love a new set of levels to work through and enjoy the new character. Those who hated the first, and there are plenty of those as well, will not be won over by his pink female counter part.
Final Rating: 8.5/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Gamer Score Earned: 35/200
Price Bought at: N/A – Furnished by Twisted Pixel
Current Price: 800 Microsoft Points ($10)
Recommend Purchase Price: There is a lot of game here for 800MSP, and worth a purchase if a fan of the first. 400MSP is a must-buy.