It seems whenever Twisted Pixel comes up, I have nothing but good things to say. Then again, given its small repertoire of quirky, challenging, and, most importantly, fun titles on the Xbox LIVE Arcade, it’s really hard to find fault.
Thankfully, with the recent release of Ms. ‘Splosion Man, the company’s reputation is not about to change.
An action platformer with a simple premise and an equally simple control scheme, the original ‘Splosion Man was a rich, complex, and absurd title that really showed off what Twisted Pixel had to offer. It was a game as unafraid of self-deprecation as it challenged its players with intense, pulse-pounding levels walking the line between complex and controller-breaking frustration.
Now, Twisted Pixel has taken the route Namco did with Ms. Pac-Man, giving the lead character a pretty bow and a feminine paint job. But just how does Ms. ‘Splosion Man stack up?
Following ‘Splosion Man’s rampage through Big Science Labs in the first game, it appears the scientists have finally succeeded in capturing the hyperactive exploding man by exploiting his weakness for cake. However, during their celebration, one of the scientists spills champagne onto some electrical cables, sending a power surge through the machine that created ‘Splosion Man in the first place. And, as a single bow falls into the machine, Ms. ‘Splosion Man is born and ready to splode her way through Big Science’s goon squad to rescue the love of her very brief life.
As Ms. ‘Splosion Man isn’t much of a story driven game, especially compared to Twisted Pixel’s previous title, Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley, the plot of the game is quite simple: kill a bunch of scientists, rescue ‘Splosion Man. Still, you’ve got a hand it to Twisted Pixel for offering a reversal of the typical “hero rescues the damsel in distress” formula without beating you over the head with it.
Like her predecessor, Ms. ‘Splosion Man is a hyperactive, pop-culture spouting lunatic. However, whereas ‘Splosion Man was manic and child-like, Ms. ‘Splosion Man is so stereotypically feminine, one might be tempted to call the game sexist if not for how over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek the portrayal of the character really is. And, let’s be honest: that’s where the fun in her character lies. She sings 90s pop songs, is obsessed with shoes, and says the most stereotypically feminine phrases, all while reducing hordes of scientists to piles of meat. And, most importantly, it’s just hilarious to watch.
As usual, Twisted Pixel’s brand of absurd humor really shines in Ms. ‘Splosion Man. However, while good humor does go a long way, does it have the gameplay to back it up?
Building on ‘Splosion Man‘s already stellar platforming gameplay, Ms. ‘Splosion Man does more than just offer more of the same underneath a brand new coat of paint. Instead, it takes what was great about the first game and, in addition to adding a new character, adds quite a few new gameplay mechanics that really help expand the gameplay experience, such as rails, directional cannons, and rocket cars. In addition, there is now an overworld map, similar to that of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, with secret exits that lead to hidden levels, and even a fun little easter egg to find.
Of course, as this is still a ‘Splosion Man game, various staples return, such as deadly lasers and mashy spike plates. In addition, the cake collecting aspect of the first game is also back, only this time, rather than cake, there’s a hidden pair of shoes within each level, minus the boss stages, fitting for Ms. ‘Splosion Man’s stereotypically girly personality.
As for the gameplay controls, not much has really changed. Every button does the same exact thing: ‘splode. ‘Sploding is how you jump, defend yourself, and essentially how you interact with the environment to get through a stage. This is where the genius of the game really shows itself, as Twisted Pixel has taken a very minimalistic approach towards gameplay mechanics and turned it into something very rich and complex through the use of level designs. You don’t have a ton of abilities to get through the game. You just have one: ‘sploding.
Despite the simplistic gameplay mechanics, the actual stages are fast-paced and fun if you know what you’re doing. Veterans of ‘Splosion Man will feel right at home here, especially as the new additions, such as the rails and rocket cars, are introduced slowly instead of all at once. Newcomers might find the gameplay slow at first, but once you hit your stride and really grasp the idea of ‘sploding, you’ll be flying through levels. However, that is not to say the game is absolutely perfect.
As tight and precise as the gameplay mechanics are, there is one aspect of the game that might get on peoples nerves: the difficulty. As veterans of the first game will know, ‘Splosion Man had a few pretty brutal levels, including the infamous level 3-5. (This level inspired so much hate, Twisted Pixel had a balloon with the level designer’s face on it for people to punch at PAX Prime 2009.)
While the levels start off rather easy, the overall difficulty of Ms. ‘Splosion Man is a bit harder than the previous game. Thankfully, Twisted Pixel learned from the 3-5 issue, with the more difficult levels optional and marked by the level signboard being colored red as opposed to blue. Still, some of the later levels, especially those in the Big Science Factory, can get quite frustrating, especially when the game requires your timing to be almost pitch perfect. However, it just makes the victory that more rewarding for those willing to put in the time.
Aside from the standard stages and the optional hard stages, certain stages on the overworld map contain a question mark, signifying that they have a hidden exit that unlocks a secret stage. These levels, unlike the standard and hard levels, are designed more as fun rewards. While they aren’t ridiculously easy, they tend to be more on the short side and just a lot of fun to play, rewarding players that go the extra mile to find the hidden extras.
Overall, the single-player experience consists of 50 levels, including the hard stages, secret stages, and three boss stages. The boss stages are each unique, requiring different skill and ways of thinking in order to beat them. The final boss fight in general is just a delight to play, as well as being an amazingly creative way to end the game. However, to say anymore would be a spoiler, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it and see for yourselves.
The single player mode isn’t the end of it either, as Ms. ‘Splosion Man contains a multiplayer mode that supports up to four players, both locally and on Xbox LIVE. Like the first game, the multiplayer levels are all different from the single player experience, rather than just a rehash of the same levels with multiple players. In these levels, the use of teamwork is emphasized and essentially mandatory, as the levels are designed in a way that they cannot be completed without a partner. Like the single player, these levels can get rather tough, but have a big payoff for the patient team.
Finally, as an added bonus for those who just can’t say no to a good challenge, Twisted Pixel has added a special game mode known as 2G1C, or 2 Girls 1 Controller, which allows one player to play through the multiplayer levels, controlling two characters using one controller. While definitely a fun mode to play through, be prepared for a challenge.
Despite the overall difficulty of the game being a bit on the harsh side, the game is a treat to play, especially for those who are patient enough not to break their controllers or toss them at their TV.
If you’ve played ‘Splosion Man or Comic Jumper, you’re probably wondering if Twisted Pixel included a quirky song or two in this game. Well, let me answer your question by saying that yes, there are a few songs to meet the quirkiness quota on this adventure. In fact, even “Donuts, Go Nuts” gets a cameo appearance as the game’s pause music.
As with previous Twisted Pixel games, Texas-based audio production facility, OkraTron 5000, provides the audio for this game, with voice work from anime veterans Sonny Strait and Monica Rial as ‘Splosion Man and Ms. ‘Splosion Man. What little voice work there is in the game is used quite well – Rial’s performance is hilarious without being too grating.
In addition, OkraTron 5000 director Christopher Sabat, famous for his roles as Vegeta and Piccolo in Dragon Ball Z, provides the vocals for the hilarious song “Badonkadonk”, which plays when you cheat on the game, and also reprises one of his roles from Comic Jumper in a hilarious cameo, so be on the look out for that.
Like the first game, Ms. ‘Splosion Man is a 2.5D platformer, fully rendered in 3D but playing along a 2D plane. With a colorful, cartoonish visual style that further exemplifies just how fun and wacky Ms. ‘Splosion Man is, the game looks absolutely wonderful.
The sequel employs some rather noticeable upgrades to the graphics engine. Furthermore, as opposed to the first game, which took place within the confines of Big Science Labs, Ms. ‘Splosion Man explores three different locations: the futuristic Big Science City, the lush, tropical Big Resort, and the dreary soulless Big Factory. The game is definitely much more varied in its environments, a welcome touch.
After an already stellar first installment, Ms. ‘Splosion Man improves on its predecessor in every way a sequel should, with fun new gameplay mechanics and more of Twisted Pixel’s trademark humor, including the obligatory live-action scenes. It’s obvious that Twisted Pixel had as much fun with this game as their other titles, and it really pays off with a rousing, entertaining play experience. Sure, there are issues with the difficulty at times, but that’s not enough to suck the fun from the game.
With tons of pop-culture references, shout outs to games like Ms. Pac-Man, Super Mario World, and even Punch Out!!, as well as a hilarious and well-deserved jab at Capcom, the game is an absolute riot. Even if you’re easily frustrated or don’t like games that are too challenging, I still suggest giving the game a chance. With 100 total levels to play through, a ton of extras to unlock, and weekly in-game challenges planned, Ms. ‘Splosion Man is definitely worth the price and more.
With ‘Splosion Man and Ms. ‘Splosion Man under their belts, one has to wonder what’s next for Twisted Pixel. (Aside from The Gunstringer, I mean.) ‘Splosion Man Jr., perhaps?
Make it so, Twisted Pixel. Make it so.
Ms. ‘Splosion Man is available on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 800 Microsoft Points. A copy of the game was provided free of charge from Twisted Pixel Games for review purposes.