At the outset of Ms. Splosion Man, the protagonist of the game’s predecessor, ‘Splosion Man, is finally captured by the mad brains of Big Science. The scientists hold a party in their lab in celebration but quickly become victims of their own bravado as one of the scientists accidentally spills a bottle of champagne onto some electrical wiring. A surge of energy flows to a nearby experimentation platform and Ms. Splosion Man is created with one goal in mind: escape the laboratory and cause as much explosive chaos as humanly possible. Fans of the original will quickly recognize the gameplay elements present in this action platformer which are virtually identical to the previous game. The player’s objective is to “splode” through a series of levels consisting of puzzles, traps, and enemies to escape the facility. A splode is basically a jump, and can also be used to kill enemies, break glass walls, detonate explosive barrels, or trigger other effects.
Level Design/Environments – Though the original ‘Splosion Man was generally well received, one of the game’s most frequent criticisms was that the levels became much too repetitive. Twisted Pixel clearly acknowledged that critique and agreed. Ms. Splosion Man for the first time allows the character to exit the laboratory in which they were created and the new settings that Ms. Splosion Man visits are nothing short of stunning. From a futuristic highway of flying cars to a gorgeous, tropical beach resort, you’ll be amazed at the amount of detail each and every level contains. When you’re not flying through the air or testing your reflexes, it’ll be worth your while to take a second and look around at some of the striking environments the devs have designed. Every level, and different world for that matter, is uniquely characterized by an abundance and variety of vividly colorful hues. They’re almost enough to distract you from the current puzzle you’re trying to solve and not looking at all that’s happening around you may be a challenge in itself. Clever, Twisted Pixel, very clever. There are roughly 15 levels in each world, and though it may seem like a lot at times, there’s enough inventiveness and creativity that allow the levels in a particular world to seem familiar without feeling repetitive. Chances are that by the time you get tired of seeing the same scenery over and over, it’ll be time for you to move on to a different setting.
Difficulty – Ms. Splosion Man is played in its entirety through the use of just one button, of which allows you to splode to progress through levels and vanquish enemies. Sounds easy? Well, it is, in theory. The brilliance of the game is that it challenges you not through a complex button or control scheme, but through a series of puzzles and obstacles that require you to analyze and study your surroundings and then maneuver them with lightning-fast reflexes. In short, this game is not easy by any means. It can in fact be extremely hard at times. However, whereas Super Meat Boy (a similar platformer) dabbled in the absurdly hard and was often described as inaccessible to some players, Ms. Splosion Man appears to have found the perfect balance. While each level will have some degree of difficulty, rarely if ever will you come across a puzzle or challenge that will be so frustratingly hard that it’ll make you want to put the controller down. Yes, you are timed during play, but the timer is more for competitive and replay purposes. The first playthrough of each new level will be spent mapping out your next chronological move and with each death you’ll gain valuable info on how to progress through that particular challenge. There will be times throughout the game in which you’ll be required to expertly time a lengthy sequence of splosions and one mistimed jump or faulty maneuver of the analog stick will send you back to your most recent checkpoint. If you hate not being able to beat levels within the first few tries or don’t like to spontaneously curse in frustration, Ms. Splosion Man is probably not for you. This is a game that rewards players for their time and patience. Wiping the sweat from your brow with a satisfactory smile after a particularly difficult level will feel that much better knowing you lost about 100 Ms. Splosion Men to get there.
Various new gameplay elements have been added to this sequel. The protagonist can now ride along hanging rails to avoid hazards and splode into directional cannons that can launch the player in a specific direction. Flying cars, trampolines, and an electric backboard that instantly recharges your character for non-stop splosions have all been added and each of these additions are used to aid the player in solving particular puzzles. Progression through certain puzzles will also require you to have a degree of momentum in order to be successful, similar in style to Mirror’s Edge in which players have to “chain” together a series of movements. Again, often times the only way to advance is through the trial and error approach and it may take you several times before you find yourself saying, “Oh so that’s what I have to do.”
The epic boss battles ever-present in ‘Splosion Man make a return and they’re better and more entertaining than ever. Though most gamers won’t find the bosses to be particularly hard, some of the fights seem to drag on longer than they ought to. What helps however is the distinctly innovative gameplay attached to each one. Even from the very first boss it becomes evident, mainly through the use of some pretty remarkable interactive cinematic sequences, how much heart and soul went into making the battles as engaging as possible.
Humor – Although humor and comedy is subjective to all, it’s hard to believe that you won’t see or hear something in this game that will put a smile on your face if not actually make you laugh. Ms. Splosion Man is littered with more pop culture references than an MTV produced teen movie. Among the various movie lines and TV references that Ms. Splosion Man will spontaneously utter while progressing through the game, her preferred area of popular culture appears to be mainstream music. Ms. Splosion Man simply loves to sing her favorite female empowerment tunes while running amok and setting fire to handicapped mad scientists. Some of the more frequent songs I personally heard her reference included lyrics from Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”, Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”, and of course the ever-cliché “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper. The references aren’t limited to Ms. Splosion Man’s phrases, however. After defeating the first boss you’ll be treated to an amusing little cutscene that alludes to the 1987 film, Predator, as the scrap metal monster triggers a self-destruct sequence on his wrist device and then laughs at the thought of the imminent explosion. References like this can be found throughout the game and although some of them may be lost on younger gamers, those who are able to catch and understand them are in for a very entertaining experience.
Twisted Pixel displays their wacky comedic sense early and often. An intro to show players the basics of the game, titled “Splodin’ and You”, shows the protagonist as she demonstrates the correct way to progress past certain challenges. A yellow colored character named Debbie (who is described as an *expletive* by the narrator who couldn’t keep her hands off her man) is killed over and over as she demonstrates the wrong way. It’s this kind of bizarre hilarity that the developers included at each and every stage and make no apologies for. The “Everyone Loves Doughnuts” song is back from the original and you can hear it at any time simply by pausing while in-game. Another feature returning for the sequel is the consequence for skipping levels. In ‘Splosion Man, if you died enough times trying to pass an obstacle you’d be allowed to skip it, but at the price of having to wear a ballerina tutu. In Ms. Splosion Man, skipping a challenge results in what Twisted Pixel believes to be the worst nightmare for any woman – having a big, fat butt. When you skip to the next checkpoint, Ms. Splosion Man’s butt will become twice the size and you’ll have to hear a mocking song about the fact that you now have a big butt. Is there an award for best in-game punishment after cheating?
Bang For Your Buck – While publishers like Activision (just to tag one of the bigger names) are charging $15 simply for map DLC, it’s astonishing that Twisted Pixel is selling Ms. Splosion Man for just $10. There is an insane amount of content here for the asking price. The single player alone will give you fifty levels and three boss fights, as well as the challenge of finding all 47 hidden pairs of shoes that Ms. Splosion Man so desperately needs for her collection. You’ll also be able to use the in-game coins, earned from destructing environments and completing levels quickly, to purchase items from the game’s store which is appropriately titled, “The Mall.” Here you’ll be able to unlock concept art from the game, short comedic movies usually demonstrating crazy scientist antics, audio/music from the game, photos, and other exclusives such as avatar items.
If all that isn’t enough for to earn your $10, add on another fifty levels for the game’s co-op mode. Drawing off of the concept that Valve used with Portal 2, co-op brings to the table all new levels and challenges, and even provides a different ending as well. Did I mention you can play the co-op mode by yourself? No, really. There’s an available mode cleverly titled “2 Girls 1 Controller” (must I explain this pop culture reference?) which allows players to control two characters and play the co-op mode entirely by themselves. The left analog stick and bumper control one character, while the right stick and bumper control the other character. If it sounds tough, it is, and the level design in the co-op mode won’t make things any easier. Similar to Portal 2, the levels and challenges you’ll come across here are designed to be more difficult and you’ll often be required to utilize the splosions of the other character to progress. It may even take a series of synchronized splosions in order to complete certain puzzles. Yet all the frustration will gradually subside when you realize the amount of content you’re getting for the price being paid. The levels may not be easy, but there’s a ton of them, and that’s an aspect of this game that I cannot praise enough.
Replay Value – Rarely do games these days place emphasis on this aspect without the concept of DLC. Ms. Splosion Man is refreshing because it does exactly that. If you do manage to beat the 100 levels featured in both the single and co-op campaigns, you’ll still have more than enough reason to go back to this game with the addition of “Ghost Replays.” This feature allows you to not only race against your own best level completion times, but it also allows you to download the best times from the game’s leaderboards and compete against the top runs from each particular level. The collecting of shoes and the discovery of secret exits hidden in some levels offer their own achievements as well and present players with an abundance of challenges that will keep them coming back for quite some time.
Rare, Yet Still Existent Poorly Placed Checkpoints – The more you play Ms. Splosion Man, the more you will come to know checkpoints as your best friend. That being said, there are certain instances in which I found particular checkpoints to be in badly placed spots. It’s a rare occurrence, but it becomes more noticeable the farther you get in the game. As you progress, you might come across a tough series of sequential obstacles that require you to hit a lengthy succession of buttons with perfect timing in order to advance. Let’s say the button sequence is comprised of 15 buttons that need to be pushed in order and on time. It’s possible that on the 14th button you’ll mistime a splosion or jerk the joystick just enough to send your character to her untimely death, resulting in the shouting of obscenities loud enough to wake the neighbors and a restart at your last checkpoint. Usually, the checkpoints are very well placed, yet there are occasions when you’ll think “I have to start again from here?” This annoyance is too infrequent to be a major problem, but it happens just enough to become observable, especially during the game’s later stages.
Ability to Skip Levels – I’ve never been a fan of having the option to skip past a level or certain area in a game simply because it’s hard. The most rewarding games are the ones that require you to put a good deal of time and effort into them to be successful. I suppose in certain instances in which the game’s story is placed above the actual gameplay, like L.A. Noire for example, this concept is more acceptable. Ms. Splosion Man however, is far from an interactive movie. It is a platformer that derives its value from being tough and the entertainment and amusement you gain from playing it will not come from some deep, profound storyline. Ms. Splosion Man knows what type of game it is and it’s damn good at what it sets out to accomplish. For this reason, it’s a wonder why Twisted Pixel would include the option to skip the levels they put so much meticulous detail into creating. Of course, skipping a level will result in the horrific consequence of an enlarged ass, but even this curse will not be enough to prevent some players from cheating to avoid the frustration that they would otherwise have inevitably faced. It’s quite possible that Twisted Pixel included the option just to satisfy their bizarre comedic tastes in watching guilty players walk around with a big behind.
Lack of Story – Though you’ll always be thoroughly entertained while causing chaos in the labs of Big Science or sploding scientists who are on their knees praying for an escape from your wrath, your only real incentive to destructing everything in your way is to locate and free your soulmate, ‘Splosion Man himself. The concept is certainly straightforward enough, but I can’t help but feel that more effort could have went into making an actual plot. Ms. Splosion Man is undoubtedly a throwback to the golden days of the action platformer, and I think that a solitary, characterized villain holding ‘Splosion Man captive would have been the perfect homage to the days of the original Donkey Kong – simplistic, yet easily lovable. Of course, in this case, it would have been a refreshing change of pace within the genre as the damsel in distress would be taking the role of the hero instead of being carried off time and time again by a gigantic ape.
Not everyone will fall in love with Ms. Splosion Man and those who can’t be bothered with games that require a good amount of patience and persistence in order to succeed will want to invest their time elsewhere. Those who can endure the occasional few exasperating levels however, will find that the game offers an incredibly entertaining and satisfying experience. Ms. Splosion Man is challenging without ever feeling impossible, and for some the degree of difficulty in itself will be a reason to buy this game as it offers what few other games do in this day and age – a demanding and extensive campaign. The level design and gorgeous backdrops you’ll be sploding through are definitely noteworthy, and the comedic prowess of Twisted Pixel is evident around every corner as well. You might even be able to consider the challenge of catching the abundance of pop culture references scattered throughout Ms. Splosion Man as its own minigame. If you look hard enough, there are many more than just the obvious ones uttered by your character and it just makes it that much more humorous when you find them. It goes without saying that if you have $10 to spend and an Xbox360, there is simply no reason not to get this game. You truly get an absurd amount of value and content for the price including about 100 levels through both the single-player and co-op modes and an in-game store where you can spend your earned coins on nifty little unlockables. If all that weren’t enough, the game also has some serious replay value to offer players eager for more splodin’. Even if you’re able to complete the challenge of collecting every pair of shoes, the concept of the “Ghost Replays” will allow you to go back to any level in attempt to top your previous best time as well as challenge the best runs from around the world by downloading them from the game’s leaderboards. Whether you’re looking for a game to help you pass the time until the Fall’s big releases, searching for that perfect addition to your Xbox Live Arcade library, or simply seeking a challenging and entertaining game that is going to provide you with a ton of gameplay hours, Ms. Splosion Man is a sure bet with a price that you just can’t go wrong with. Oh, and if you’re going to be playing Ms. Splosion Man with or around the family, try to keep the impulsive cursing to a minimum. Try.
Ms. Splosion Man
- Available On: Xbox 360, PC
- Published By: Microsoft Studios
- Developed By: Twisted Pixel Games
- Genre: Platformer
- US Release Date: July 13th, 2011
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
- Quote: "Ms. Splosion Man is challenging without ever feeling impossible, and for some the degree of difficulty in itself will be a reason to buy this game as it offers what few other games do in this day and age – a demanding and extensive campaign."