Splosion Man came out of nowhere to quickly become one of my favorite XBLA games ever - and certainly the most addictive one I’ve played yet. Out of the dozens of XBLA games in my virtual collection, I can’t remember any that hooked me as quickly and for so long as this one. The game can be described as a puzzle-platformer, with a title character that, as the name suggests, explodes a whole lot. Every “splosion” is a jump in this game, and the ensuing blast can either open a pathway to a new part of a level or blow the limbs off of mad scientists - sometimes it’s both, and no matter which it is, it’s always fun. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of the game. It’s basically a collection of puzzles built around platforming, and I haven’t had so much fun with such a simple premise since Sonic the Hedgehog.
Like that classic, there isn’t a whole lot your character can do - but there doesn’t need to be. What’s done here is done exceptionally well, and the developers made everything to a high standard. The gameplay is simple but unbelievably addictive - by the end of the demo, after I’d unlocked an achievement for blowing up ten scientists, I immediately added MS points to my account to play more because unlike many XBLA games, there was no way the demo was going to satiate my desire for the game. There’s simply too much fun to be had with the full game that the demo simply can’t provide.
Splosion Man revolves around solving puzzles using platforming skills to navigate the terrain to progress. Sometimes you’ll have to carefully jump from platform to platform while avoiding lasers. Other times, you’ll have to blast from one flammable barrel to another in rapid-fire succession in order to outrun giant spike walls. And every now and then, you’ll even have to use a mad scientist as a human shield to absorb enemy fire…and then blow him to smithereens once you’ve gotten past the obstacle. Yeah, this game rules. The scenarios vary wildly from level-to-level and always challenge your brain when you come across them. There are also frequent checkpoints, which gives you more freedom to experiment with ways to get past an obstacle - there’s no fear of being down to your last life and absolutely having to solve the problem in one shot, which is a great relief and definitely adds to the fun as you can move through the game at your own pace.
The level design is fantastic, and the trial-and-error gameplay is done in such a way as to not become frustrating. Like similar games (the Abe’s Oddysee ones come to mind), you’ll likely fail many times before succeeding - in most games, this could lead to an incredible amount of frustration. However, success will eventually come your way, and when it does, you’ll feel an incredible sense of satisfaction. Here, the feeling is amplified by online scoreboards and timed runs - so the prideful feeling doesn’t just stop when you finally solve a puzzle. It will continue on until you’ve beaten your friends’ times. As great as the level design is, it really would have been nice if a level editor feature were included. N+ was another example of a game that thrived on a seemingly simplistic game design that offered far more depth than was initially visible on the surface. Also, while I like the online scoreboards, I really wish the online play itself was smoother. As it is, it’s a little too laggy for my liking and that definitely gets in the way of the timing-based gameplay. Hopefully, a patch comes out soon that can remedy that issue.
Visually, this is a gorgeous game to behold. The game takes place in a 2D world, but the characters and world are all incredibly detailed 3D models, which makes for a unique look on its own. Like Sonic, Splosion Man features some hilarious idle animations. If you dilly dally, you’ll be treated to him running in place, doing jumping jacks, and other such wacky, amusing antics. The over-the-top running animations, which feature him either flailing his arms around or holding them out like they’re airplane wings, are also pretty funny. They’re small touches, but add a lot of humor to the game and help it stand out.
Splosion Man’s audio is top-notch, and adds more comedy to the mix. The soundtrack has a distinctly spy-ish vibe to it - I could see some of the tunes fitting in as background music for a Bond film, or more appropriately given the humor in the game, a Spy vs. Spy cartoon/game. The sound effects, like the wacky animations for the title character, are over-the-top but help cement the game’s sense of humor. As you run, jump, and spend time sending men of science into spike pits, you’ll hear Splosion Man express his joy with a variety of cackles while the scientists emit panicky yells and things go BOOM! really loudly. It’s all quite great and funny in a slightly twisted sort of way.
All in all, Splosion Man is a definite must-buy. Its combination of challenging, but addictive gameplay, impressive graphics, and humor combine to form a memorable experience that stands out and sticks in your head long after you’ve shut the system off. If you want something new in your gaming life, try it out - the price is very reasonable, especially given the high quantity of well-crafted levels. If nothing else, download the demo and give that a whirl - I’m sure that after you do, you’ll rush to add points to your account to fully experience the greatness contained with this single download.