Splosion Man Xbox Live Review
How many times must a man explode, before you can call him a man?
If Twisted Pixel – developers of previous XBLA hit The Maw – have anything to do with it, the number would be so ludicrously high, there’d be little more than charred particles to remember him by. Luckily, exploding (or ‘sploding) is the titular ‘Splosion Man’s forte, in fact there’s very little else he can do. All of the face buttons make ‘Splosion Man ‘splode. If you want to jump, you ‘splode. If you want to destroy a robot, you ‘splode. If you want to kick a barrel across a level to take out a mad scientist controlling a remote turret, you, er, ‘splode. There is a catch however; ‘Splosion Man can only ‘splode three times before needing to recharge. This may seem pretty insignificant, but in actuality it turns the game from a simple 2D platformer, into an impressive reflex-based puzzle marathon. The reason for this is the way in which ‘Splosion Man must traverse the 50 levels of the ‘Big Science’ laboratory complex.
Although his move-set is limited to simply blowing up, ‘Splosion Man will grab onto any wall that he’s propelled towards. While his position isn’t permanent (he’ll almost immediately start to slide down the surface), it does allow for a second blast to propel him further upward. Chaining these wall jump explosions is the key to successfully moving through the levels, misjudge the timing and you’ll soon find yourself out of ‘splodes, and falling back down to the start as a blackened mess. It only takes a second to recharge the blasts, but it’s long enough that getting the timing wrong has a serious impact on ‘Splosion Man’s progress. They also can’t be recharged mid-air, requiring ‘Splosion Man to be on level ground or performing a lengthy wall-slide before his ‘splode power regenerates. This leaves the game open for all sorts of possibilities, and each level has been cleverly designed around this process to provide a surprising amount of obstacles to successfully navigate.
With movement feeling highly reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog and N+, playing just for the sake of bouncing around is as instantly gratifying as it comes, and yet there’s so much more to it. Puzzles will often require a combination of thought and quick reflexes, and many of the areas rely on well timed ‘splodes in order to succeed. The game places great importance on exploding barrels, which both propel ‘Splosion Man further whilst simultaneously recharging his ‘splodes. While some barrels allow for manual direction control, many automatically launch ‘Splosion Man in the required direction. It may take a lot of the control away from the player, but at the same time it changes its focus to well timed ‘splosions, which are just as challenging, and impressive to behold. The downside of this of course, is a lot of the game resorts to trial and error based puzzle solving. Similar to the early Sonic games, often is the case that the action is going so fast that it’s quite easy to miss an essential ‘splode and end up dying. To remedy this, there are plenty of checkpoints, and it’s impossible to avoid that ‘one more go’ mentality, it’s just a shame that there wasn’t any other way to get around this.
While the single player can be finished pretty quickly, it boasts a time trial mode that adds a fair bit of replay value, but more importantly are 50 more levels to assault in cooperative multiplayer. Yes, that’s 50 levels that are different to the 50 levels of the single player experience, and the reasoning for this is more ‘splodes. Playing with up to three other people means there’s four times the amount of ‘sploding, which has been cleverly designed to allow players to propel others to hard-to-reach areas by simultaneous blasts. At first it seems pretty daunting, but Twisted Pixel have included a countdown button which allows each player to know exactly when to hit the button. Once again it’s a similar affair to the main game, a lot of which is trial and error, but the reward of successfully completing some of the harder challenges will only strengthen friendships. Or y’know, completely ruin them. Whatever.
Outside of the core experience, there are other reasons why you should fall in love with ‘Splosion Man. For a start, the entire game from start to finish is completely bonkers. It’s never fully explained why ‘Splosion Man can ‘splode, and there’s no understandable reason why the scientists within the complex erupt into steaks, bacon and other meat products, but it’s hilarious nonetheless. In a similar vein, the B-movie soundtrack and the bold cartoony visuals simply add to the completely ridiculous scenario, which climaxes in one of the most amusing game finales I’ve ever had the joy of witnessing. The fact is, ‘Splosion Man never takes itself seriously, and it succeeds in every possible way because of this. From the intricately detailed running animations to the barrage of incoherent ramblings that the maniacal anti-hero spouts, if this game doesn’t make you smile then you’re officially dead inside.
Other than a few dodgy camera angles and the aforementioned difficulty issues, there’s little other than a few repetitive backgrounds that really detract from the amount of fun that ‘Splosion Man offers. For those who crave a bit of old-school platforming with a few unique twists, it’s an essential purchase. ‘Splosion Man is a reminder that games don’t have to be serious, they don’t have to make sense, and they don’t have to cost fifty quid to be brilliant, they just need to have one good idea and a lot of imagination. Throw in some humorous achievements, a few free gamerpics, a premium theme and the first ever avatar award and it’ll make you want to ‘splode in your pants.