Review: Ms. ‘Splosion Man (Xbox 360)

Ms ‘Splosion Man Review
Genre: 2D Platform
Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: 07/13/2011
Price: 800 MS Points ($10)

I have a confession to make. I’m deeply in love with Ms. ‘Splosion Man. She ‘sploded her way into my heart. I know it will never work out as I’m a married man, she’s an explosion shaped like a woman. Such things were never meant to be. Still, I can’t help turning her on and spending hours with her.

Alright, I’m going to stop writing like that now before it starts to be creepy. Still the prior paragraph should make it clear, I love this game. Ms. ‘Splosion Man is without a doubt the finest video game I’ve played all year. I understand there are other reviewers who will label nearly any well produced game as a Game of the Year just for the sake of hyperbole, but I’m not exaggerating for effect. Ms ‘Splosion Man is just that good.

Twisted Pixel, the developers behind ‘Splosion Man, The Maw and Comic Jumper, are known for their fun Xbox Live Arcade games. As someone who enjoys 2D side scrolling platform games, I really liked ‘Splosion Man. The game had charm, and was also difficult to the point where I wouldn’t recommend it to people with high blood pressure.

Ms ‘Splosion Man continues the story of the Big Science laboratory right on the verge of catching ‘Splosion Man. They finally catch him (this is right in the beginning movie), but at the ensuing celebration, things got a little crazy. Then faster than you can say, “Oops!” they accidentally create Ms. ‘Splosion Man. There’s not much of a story aside from another ‘Splosion being running around trying not to let Big Science capture her, while also creating a ton of havoc.

Speaking of, you can create havoc in the fifty single player levels, and the separate fifty Co-Op levels. Depending on how good you are at ‘Sploding a level can take anywhere from about four minutes to a lot longer than that to play through. There are also secret exits, and hidden items to locate. In the previous ‘Splosion Man that item was cake, in Ms. ‘Splosion Man that item is different shoes. There are Forty-nine different pairs in single player, which she will wear for the rest of the level once you find them as long as you can keep alive until the next checkpoint and complete the level. The game also keeps track of how much score you earn in a level (Did you blow up everything?) or how long it takes you (Good luck getting most of these times on the first try!). In addition, the Co-Op portion of the game can be played by one person in the unique “Two Girls, One Controller” mode.

While I would normally have a tough time recommending anything that would remind me of that vile viral video that circulated awhile back, this is a really interesting mode. In it you control two ‘Splosion women, one pink, one yellow. One is controlled one with the left joystick and bumper and the other with the right joystick and bumper.

It doesn’t sound like much, but trying to force your brain into coordinating perfectly timed jumps while trying to keep track of both characters is interesting, in a headache inducing sort of way. I think I nearly detached a retina trying to watch both characters at once, and the game feels like a workout on both the left and right sides of your brain.

Graphically the game looks really good. The ‘Splosion effects are top notch, there are a lot of objects that are destroyable in each level, and there are a much wider variety of levels in Ms. ‘Splosion Man compared to the original game. In addition there are several new items to ‘spode off of and around that look and animate well, and there are times when there are a lot of different effects going on with no slowdown at all. The animation is really what sells the game though from meat flying off the bad guys, to all the little details like the different popular dance moves Ms. ‘Splosion Man just randomly starts to do. The only problem I had with anything graphically was during a boss fight with a large scale boss. The boss was so large that the screen was zoomed out to point where I had a hard time seeing Ms. Splosion Man. With everything that was also happening on screen, this led to a couple of frustrating deaths. Also, while a minor gripe, sometimes enemies will splat against the screen in such a way that it obscures what is going on. It happens rarely, but it gets annoying fast, especially when you are repeating a section where that happens.

One place the game really shines is the music. Whenever you think to yourself, “I’d really want to buy this soundtrack if it was available,” then you know that the composers did a great job. There are extras that you can unlock in the game. As part of that they include descriptions over different pieces of the music in the game, why they thought it would work and so on. It’s a really great touch to show how much thought went into what is sometimes one of the lowest priorities of a game being developed. In fact, while I never, ever like to skip a checkpoint, feeling the need to always beat the section I’m on, it is completely worth it to see The Curse. I will not ruin it for you, but you must try it if only to hear the catchiest song in the game. Another nice touch is that my favorite song from the last game, the Donut Song, is the music for the pause menu. The sound effects are perfect for the game. There is some light voice work, which is cute. Ms. ‘Splosion Man herself, like the male version, is extremely hyper and chatty, constantly spouting out stuff, like different lines of pop songs or chick flicks.

I don’t know if it makes me sexist to think so, but while I could stand the voice of ‘Splosion Man just gabbering away, the voice of Ms. ‘Splosion Man was cute at first, but it quickly became annoying as she just wouldn’t shut up. I can put up with constant jabbering from a man spouting random stuff, but after hearing, “Girls just want to have fu-un!” for the tenth time I muted the TV. Luckily there is an option in the menu to turn the voice work down, so that ceased to be an issue for me.

Sure it looks good, and the music is great, but how is the actual game? This is 2D platforming at its finest. The controls are simple. The joystick or D-pad moves the character, and A button is for ‘sploding. The B button is also for ‘sploding. The X button is also for ‘sploding. You get the drift. The controller could have just a joystick and one button and Ms. ‘Splosion Man would work. ‘Sploding causes Ms. ‘Splosion Man to explode, lifting her in the air like a jump that also kills nearby enemies. She can ‘splode up to three times in a row, with small ‘splosions each time. These ‘splosions work to get her across a level, you can wall jump, ‘splode across a gap, or ‘splode different barrels with different results. Each level is divided into sections separated by checkpoints that test your cognitive reasoning and reflexes. In many ways the level is a combination of platforming puzzles. It’s not just ‘sploding at the right moment, it’s also trying to figure out exactly when and where to ‘splode.

The levels are cleverly designed. While the first ‘Splosion Man had different barrels and ways to cross the levels, Ms. ‘Sposion Man really shows off the developers creativity with a bunch of new objects to ‘splode. There are trampolines, rocket cars, zip lines, rockets you can ride, power stations with bouncy batter balls, and much more. Each of these are slowly doled out, then mixed together in ways that made me want to occasionally stand up and applaud whoever thought of some of the creative puzzles in this game. As a fan of 2D platform games, Ms. ‘Splosion Man is a thing of beauty.

You don’t have to be a fan of sculpture to appreciate Michelangelo’s David, nor do you have to be a diehard fan of 2D platform games to appreciate and enjoy Ms. ‘Splosion Man. If you are you can’t help but just sit back and admire what the developers have done with this game. The game manages to have its own identity while paying homage to nearly every major platform game. The game captures the awesome sense of speed of the Sonic series at times, and the world map is an obvious tribute to Super Mario World (as well as other things in the game that also pay homage to that title). The game has the charm and exudes the fun of Earthworm Jim, there are moments that reminded me of the Donkey Kong Country series, and more. It’s like they’ve managed to capture some of the best moments of one of my favorite genres and then package it all together in a way that is both familiar and unique, simple in execution but difficult to beat. It makes me want to have Twisted Pixel’s babies.

Now, as I said earlier, this game is difficult. Just like the prior title, Ms. ‘Splosion Man isn’t for the feint of heart. Ms. ‘Splosion Man starts with a brief tutorial that tells you not to waste your ‘Splosions like a heroin addict, aside from that the game throws you to the wolves. At the same time I think that the difficulty of the game is at times exaggerated by other people. No level is impossible, and many times it’s a matter of just figuring out when to ‘splode. There are far more items in this game with different ways of approaching a situation, and there are areas that just go by so fast you’ll only realize you should’ve ‘sploded just a second ago, only now you are dead. This will be a trial and error game. Depending on how fast you adapt and your reflexes, that might mean a lot of trial, and even more error, before you complete an area. Still I didn’t think that Ms. ‘Splosion Man, to put it in context of older platform games, was anymore difficult than some of the old Sonic or Mario games. Hell, if anything the game has harder levels because you have unlimited lives and are only limited by checkpoints. In older platform games you’d have to start a level (or the whole game) completely over again if you lost all your lives. I think Twisted Pixel has found a good balance between unlimited lives and checkpoints so that the game is never impossible to beat.

Well, that and they included the ability to skip sections if you feel like throwing the controller through the wall. This has hilarious consequences, and it will keep you from being able to record time, score, or earn coins for completing a level. These coins are used to purchase things in the in-game mall, such as the “Two Girls, One Controller” mode.

One benefit from the difficulty is that, at least for me, it was hard to put down. I couldn’t just quit or cheat on the level and skip a checkpoint. I knew I could get past the section if I was just a little quicker, or if I remembered to just ‘splode straight up instead of left or right. So I’d keep grinding at it. Then once I was done, I would check out the next level just to see what crazy way they mixed some of the game mechanics, and then push through to beat that one as well. You can even compete against ghosts of your previous attempts, or download the ghosts of Xbox Live Friends or try and race against the ghosts of the people on top of the leaderboards. If for some reason you just do not find game hard enough, there is also a Hardcore Mode you can unlock.

While Ms. ‘Splosion Man is a sequel, and pays homage to many other platform games, it is also very much an original game. The different items and their arrangements make for a completely different game that just feels familiar to the original title. This is not just more of the same with shinier graphics, this is a massive improvement in all areas from a game that was already great.

Here’s the thing that really gets me. It is $10. $10! Xbox Live Arcade has grown to being a reason to own the system, and part of that is because developers like Twisted Pixel are releasing great games that probably would have hit the shelf for $30 or more in prior console generations, and now are only $10. The game may not be for everyone, but if you’ve ever enjoyed a Mario game or a Sonic game, or just enjoy a well made game that just oozes charisma, than Ms. ‘Splosion Man is a game you would probably like.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Classic
Graphics: Great
Sound: Classic
Control and Gameplay: Unparallelled
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Great
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Unparallelled
Miscellaneous: Unparallelled
FINAL SCORE: CLASSIC GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:

People say that the female in a relationship is the “Better Half.” In this case, that is 100% accurate. Ms. ‘Splosion Man is a fantastic game that manages to blow away the original game, and also pays tribute to nearly every major platform game ever made. At 800 MS points this is a steal, at the very least try it out. I’m sure Ms. ‘Splosion Man will ‘splode her way into your heart just as she did into mine.

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