Two years ago, Twisted Pixel released one of XBLA’s most unique games in ‘Splosion Man. It was a puzzle-platformer starring a science experiment gone amuck. Now, a female doppleganger has been created by Big Science and she’s out to destroy them while doing ballet and making rapid-fire pop culture references. If destroying scientists while humming “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard” seems like something that might at least get a chuckle out of you, you’ll love this.
Much like how Ms. Pac-Man made some simple, but big changes to the core gameplay, Ms. ‘Splosion Man does that here, nearly 30 years later. I loved the original ‘Splosion Man and this is at its core, more of the same, but with sharper controls, some new gameplay mechanics that test your skills far more than you’d imagine, and more variety in the levels. The team at Twisted Pixel didn’t fix what wasn’t broken - they just kept polishing the stone until it looked perfect here. The tighter controls make platforming easier, BUT the platforming tasks you undertake are also harder, so it isn‘t easier. The game as a whole is actually a bit harder than the original, and that’s before you try tackling the co-op mode with the unlockable 2 Girls 1 Controller mode where you control Ms. Splosion Man with one stick and a bumper, ‘Splosion Man with the other stick and bumper and take on the co-op mode by yourself.
The biggest addition to the gameplay is the new zipline feature, which goes from being a means to an end to reaching a platform to being an entire sub-section of a stage so quickly that you’ll have no choice but to master the skill quickly. One line can either send you into another zipline, an enemy, or a giant streak of electricity that will destroy you. It’s not an altogether merciless experience though - if you die enough, you’ll have the option to skip to the next checkpoint, and if you want, you can even skip to the end of a stage entirely. In doing so, you’ll get the lowest time and no in-game cash to spend, but it’s worth doing at least once to hear the hilarious curse that is placed on you.
The platforming is trickier and the puzzles are also a lot harder. They’re so reliant on perfect timing that you’ll definitely have to retry them over and over, but when you succeed, the rush of adrenaline is worth the frustration you went through to figure out the solution. My favorite change to the sequel is that the levels have a lot more variety here than in the original, which keeps things from getting old, ever. One minute, you’re jumping atop Jetsons-esque cars in the sky, and the next, you could be trying to solve a puzzle using exploding barrels, giant laser beams, and a hapless scientist whose body you need to enter to absorb said laser blast. It seems odd, at least on paper, that a game with a main character who uses people as skin suits while singing about how her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard (along with a billion other little pop culture bits), but the execution is perfect and hilarious as a result.
The off-kilter sense of humor is as much a hallmark of Twisted Pixel’s games as the copious amount of content they back them with. Doing well in levels either on your own or in mutli-player gives you in-game currency for avatar awards, themes, gamer pics, concept art, soundtrack songs, movies, and even the aforementioned 1 player co-op mode, something I don’t remember seeing in any game before. There’s even an unlockable arcade that allows you to either try or buy their previous games, and do the same for Retro City Rampage, which Ms. Splosion Man will apparently be appearing in. At a mere $10, you’d have to try to not get at least that much value out of this game.
Visually, MSP is pretty much identical to the original. The visual style is the same, but the environments are far more varied. Instead of just being in a lab, you’ll take to the skies, ‘splode along bright pink explosion strips, and see a lot more sights than in the original game. And of course, like her male counterpart, MSP has some hilarious character animation, including, but not limited to doing ballet moves instead of walking and when she decides to walk, doing so with a giant, exaggerated stride. Unfortunately, MSP’s character model is sometimes too small to easily see, which can make accurate platforming a chore, and then to make matters worse, you can’t see her during a mid-air explosion, and she also has a tendency to blend in with the background far too often - ESPECIALLY the explosion strips. The good part about this is that it isn’t completely game-breaking since you’ll eventually get used to it and get to the point where it won’t bother you, but you’ll probably die many times before that happens.
The music is goofy, but awesome. The new feminine version of the ‘Splosion Man theme is catchy, and will get stuck in your head - especially after moving around the in-game mall menu creating it just by going from selection to selection in a hilarious little Easter egg. The sounds of scientists fleeing for their lives before they’re blown up remains funny, and like the original, it’s filled with a lot of little sound effects that will at least elicit a chuckle.
Just like the original game, Ms. ‘Splosion Man is well worth not only your time, but also your money. SM fans will want to pick this up ASAP, and will get their $10 worth out of it easily with either the solo or separate multi-player campaigns. Newcomers really should try the first game out, or at least the trial of either, because the sequel is a lot harder, and not an ideal first experience for the series, even with the increased comedy and checkpoint-skipping features. Twisted Pixel’s latest effort isn’t perfect, but it is a fantastic labor of love even with its faults.