Ms. Splosion Man – Review

Xbox Live Arcade Title.
Price: 800MSP
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: Local and Online Co-op.

(Title provided by the publishers for review)

Thirty or so years ago Midway came up with a strange idea to relaunch Pac-Man: they turned him into a girl. A quick lick of pink paint and a cute bow later and Ms. Pac-Man hit the gaming scene and became quite the success. Thirty years later and Twisted Pixel have decided that Splosion Man would benefit from the same treatment. Another tin of pink paint and a cute bow later and we have the hyper-active, babbling ball of pent-up energy that stars in this side-scrolling platformer that delights in steak. Don’t ask.

The concept behind the game is Ms. Splosions Mans ability to “splode” three times in the air, before needing to recharge by touching the ground or one of the numerous other methods. This fantastic means of propulsion can also be used as an attack – for example, “sploding” near scientists turns them into lovely, cooked steaks. Ms. Splosion can use this ability to leap off of walls, blow up barrels to proper herself higher and many other things. But Twisted Pixel weren’t content to just rehash all the gameplay ideas from the first game, and while the basic building blocks of the platforming/puzzling remain the same, many new elements have been added resulting in some absolutely brilliant level design: Ms. Splosion can ride along rails – an idea used to great effect for some high-speed chases – fire herself out of cannons and inhabit the body of a fat woman, allowing the player to walk through laser fire unharmed.

When brought together these elements create a blend of high-speed platforming and puzzling that is almost without match. Stringing together a seamless combination of moves to navigate a fiendish section of the level is hugely rewarding and feels intuitive and smooth. But this style of gameplay can also lead to some frustrating moments: levels can often become a case of having to progress a few feet, memorizing the layout,  before dying and starting it all over again. These moments break the pace of the game, but a saving grace comes in the form of the option to skip to the next checkpoint should you die too much, though it will ruin your end-of-level score. Above all of that, though, is those simple moments where you utterly fail to get through a section again and again, and it’s not the games fault, it’s yours. Can I class this as a flaw? Can I class screaming irate nonsense at the screen because a section is tough? Yes. Yes I can.  But there is some reasoning behind this complaint: if you drew the games difficulty level as a graph on a piece of paper, it would look like something drawn by a drunk spider who’s whacked out on drugs. This makes those moments where your own skill was the problem even worse as the section before was so goddamn easy! And now you’re getting your ass kicked. Arggh!

You can prepare yourself for even more frustration if you happen to be competitive with your friends as the gameplay lends itself perfectly to replaying the level to try to beat your friends times and scores. At this point the game becomes more like Trials HD as you attempt to figure out where that sneaky little sod managed to shave off a couple of seconds from his/her time.

Arguably, more than anything else, it’s the humour that makes this game great. Much of that comes down to the hyper-active Ms. Splosion herself: simply moving her left or right results in her skipping/dancing/weirdly running and babbling away to herself. She gibbers away using wierd clichés and daft sentences about going shopping, putting a ring on her finger, increasing her bust (errrrrr…..) or just chatting on the phone to a friend. She’s borderline annoying, but never crosses the line, instead she’s all girl power in the most girly way possible, but then she blows stuff up. Brilliant! The cutscenes demonstrate an innate knack from the developers for comedy genius and timing. The cutscenes are always short and to the point, and that’s how it should be: scientists get blown up, make daft errors or just get plain terrified, and some of the unlockable security footage is just plain hilarious.

The game also looks beautiful: it’s bright, cartoony and graceful in its animations. Watching Ms. Splosion skip and run across the screen is art by itself, and the wonderfully created environments keep things feeling nice and fresh. Special mention should also be given to the chase scene that takes place early in the game: it’s done very well and sets up the mood nicely for the rest of the game.

 Theres also a big chunk of content for your money, as well. The singleplayer alone should last you around 6-8 hours, but then you’ve got an entire new co-op campaign that lasts almost as long with a completely different ending and it can be played both locally and online. Throw in in-game unlockable stuff and you’ve got a pretty hefty Arcade game on offer.

Ms. Splosion feels like the perfect sequel: the core gameplay that made the first game so damn fun is still here, but now it’s improved, expanded and refined. The platforming is fast, fun and frantic. The humour is brilliant. And it all looks really good, too! What more do you want?

The Good:
+ Frantic!
+ Funny!
+ FUN!

The Bad:
– Occasionally imprecise platforming.
– Can be frustrating.
– Some people will find Ms. Splosion annoying.

The Scores:

Graphics: 9
It’s all bright, it’s all well animated, and it all just looks so damn fine!

Sound: 8.5
The random chattering of Ms. Splosion is well done, the music is catchy and the sound effects are great.

Story: 5
A pink, exploding, hyper-active chick goes on a rampage.

Gameplay: 9
A simple concept of exploding three times in the air is combined with fantastic level design to create some truly brilliant platforming. And often frustrating platforming. Grrrrrr.

Lifespan: 8.5
There’s a good amount of content packed in here, and for 800 Microsoft Points it’s a bargain.

Overall: 9
Summary: Utterly bonkers and great to play. Who knew turning a character pink and giving them a bow could result in so much awesomeness?

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