More Fun Than a Rocket Launcher to the Posterior
Everyone's got a favorite Superhero: Superman, Spiderman, X-men (okay, that's a group of super heroes), but there's always one that evades the naked eye. One superhero that immediately comes to mind doesn't exist in the Marvel or DC pantheon; rather, he was created by an amateur video game developer. This unlikely hero, 'Splosion Man, was crafted by an Indie Development team that became famous through its award winning video game, The Maw. This cartoony video game was well received for its excellent 3D graphics (for a downloadable game), and for its innovative inhalation-based gameplay. However, it didn't go without its criticism--some people despised it because of its simplistic nature. Most levels were a breeze, so this criticism wasn't entirely unwarranted. Well, those jaded gamers who were repelled by The Maw finally got what they asked for. In July, 'Splosion Man entered the gaming scene with a vengeance and made masochistic gamers cry.
Okay, I'm exaggerating a little, but 'Splosion Man is one difficult game. Before I repel all but 10% of the people who play video games however, I'd like to explain why most people will still find 'Splosion Man fun, despite its devilish difficultly.
When I first heard of 'Splosion Man, I wasn't expecting much. I'd read that it only included the use of one button, and it looked like a generic 2D platformer. Instead of investigating the title in-depth before playing, I decided to start from scratch and gather my own impressions. What I found was one of the best platformers I'd played in years, and the best title out of the four released Summer of Arcade games. Despite only including one button, 'Splosion Man includes an incredible level of depth. The basic gameplay involves the use of the analog stick to guide 'Splosion Man through the game's fifty arenas. So far, there's nothing that differentiates 'Splosion Man from any other 2D platformer. However, instead of jumping, 'Splosion Man explodes. Instead of filling the room with various body parts, exploding causes 'Splosion Man to launch into the air, much like a rocket launcher does in Halo. Not only can 'Splosion Man make use of this ability once, but he can perform it three times consecutively. "What do you need to explode for," you might ask? Well, when making contact with a wall, you can explode off of it and wall jump, much as you would in Mario or Metroid. You can also explode when you collide with objects like barrels to launch yourself to new heights.
So far, this all sounds simplistic, but what makes 'Splosion Man special is the variety of ways you can play the game. Each level of 'Splosion Man is superbly designed with all kinds of puzzles to solve before you reach the exit. I already mentioned that you can explode to launch yourself through narrow passageways, but you also have to fall down chasms lined with electric fields, launch projectiles back at enemies by exploding, and you have to use donut eating scientists as shields to dodge security cameras. These are only a few of the situations you'll find yourself in. You'll also have to hit various switches, figure out how to clears areas where you can't explode, and escape rising water levels. Many of the game's puzzles are simple, but some are quite complex and will really require you to think.
'Splosion Man doesn't just make use of your brain, however. It also requires precise timing and incredible reflexes. The early levels are fairly simple with jumps that almost anyone can clear, but later levels will have you running through three minute sequences with an assortment of traps that require precise timing. If you make one small mistake or are just a bit too slow, you'll have to go back to the last distant checkpoint. For example, one situation might have you jumping over rising toxic waste via explosive barrels. You'll have to hit each barrel at the appropriate moment by tapping a button, and you'll have to launch yourself in the correct direction, all while avoiding the rising tide. You might also have to avoid enemies, possibly reflect attacks back at them, and run across speedy conveyor belts while avoiding electric fields in close proximity to your character. Some situations can be a bit frustrating ,since they're so long, but it feels great to master an expertly crafted level. Most of the game doesn't feel cheap--instead, it requires skillful maneuvers, so each course simply requires practice. I love how 'Splosion Man forces you to use your brain and reflexes at the same time. The puzzles won't drive you as crazy as those found in Braid, but they complement the experience rather well.
By now, you're already aware of 'Splosion Man's long platforming segments that require a bit of thinking and precise timing, but you'll also be happy to note that this game is perfect for speed runners. Like early ID Software games, each level of 'Splosion Man has a par time, so you'll constantly be racing to achieve that time and obtain a place on the leaderboards. Each level is well-crafted, so those who've practiced enough will have a blast competing with people across the world.
Besides having fun platforming segments, 'Splosion Man also has interesting boss fights. During these battles, you'll find yourself reflecting projectiles, jumping off walls/enemies, and dodging massive fists that will cause an instant K.O. Unfortunately, you can only get hit once, so these drawn out fights can get frustrating if you're not careful. Still, most of these boss fights are a satisfying conclusion to each of 'Splosion Man's three worlds.
Not only does 'Splosion Man include fifty incredibly well-designed single-player levels, but it also features an assortment of co-op multiplayer levels that can be enjoyed locally or online. Each of these fifty levels are different than their single-player counterparts, with the exception of the game's three boss levels. Many of these levels are insanely difficult, and should not be tackled unless the single-player mode has been completed. Not only do they require thinking and timing, but you'll also have to coordinate with other people that may not be in the same room. These mutliplayer puzzles are quite complex, and require precise maneuvers by each of your teammates. Each multiplayer level can be completed with just two people, but the levels will change depending on whether you have two, three, or four people. You'll often have to perform tasks like jumping into each other at the same time to reach new heights. One level has each player hitting switches, then jumping through a tall vertical tunnel to avoid rising water, which spells instant death. You have to jump into each other with precise timing, then point your analog sticks in opposite directions to wall jump and then jump into each other again all the way up the narrow shaft. Once you reach the top, you have to hit explosive barrels at the same velocity and time to launch yourselves even higher, only to jump into each other once again to hit more switches. Scenarios like this are incredibly difficult, and require two highly skilled and competent teammates.
These multiplayer levels are well-designed, but unfortunately there are some flaws. TwistedPixel made a wise decision including a countdown button, which can be used for timing jumps, but unfortunately, that isn't enough. It's quite difficult to find players who are at similar skill levels that will work together to accomplish daunting tasks. Hitting switches at the appropriate times and executing incredibly difficult maneuvers is too much to ask for most players. I'm fairly patient and will try levels repeatedly, but unfortunately, many players quit after a few tries. TwistedPixel doesn't enable other people to enter your games once someone has given up, so unfortunately, you have to create another game if you want to tackle that level again. This is quite devastating, especially if you made it most of the way through an extremely difficult level.
Another problem that is equally annoying to quitting is when people choose to enter another level before finishing the current one. After dying enough times, 'Splosion Man gives you the option of skipping a level, so you can try the next one. This is a handy feature, but unfortunately, one player can choose this option even if the other players don't want to. You aren't allowed to go back to previous levels, so it would have been nice if TwistedPixel at least included a vote option, or even better, they should have left the decision in the host's hands.
Creating games is usually your best bet when playing 'Splosion Man, because that's the only way you can play the level you want. When you try to join a game, it won't tell you the level they're playing until you actually join. It would have been nice to have the option to search for a specific level, so you don't have to waste your time playing old levels again. At least most games don't have much lag, but the implementation of the online mode is still disappointing.
Even though 'Splosion Man features spectacular single and multiplayer gameplay, it isn't without its short comings. The cartoony character designs are excellent, and will remind you of The Maw, but sadly, the course visuals look fairly bland. You won't find drawn out story segments and cutscenes in 'Splosion Man, so you'll spend most of your time dealing with the in-game graphics. The visuals certainly aren't bad, but levels will remind you of reused tile sets in 16-bit games. There are only three worlds, so you'll basically be seeing the same three types of environments throughout the entire game. Even with three types of worlds, they basically look like palette swaps of each other. Luckily the bland visuals won't bother you too much, because the level designs are incredible. If I were TwistedPixel, I'd give the level designers a raise for crafting flawless levels, but it would be nice to see some better artwork in their next project.
Besides 'Splosion Man's so-so visuals, the other thing that might bother you is the mediocre audio. The music (with the exception of the donut song) feels generic, and the sound effects are even worse. Unfortunately, 'Splosion Man is a Jar Jar Binks sound-alike, but those of us who play platformers are already used to that kinda thing.
Despite its minor audiovisual issues, 'Splosion Man is a triumphant return for the 2D platformer. Its brilliant puzzles, precision gameplay, and incredible sense of speed will make you feel as giddy as you did during the 8 and 16-bit eras. 'Splosion Man may not have the 'tude of Sonic or sport a thick moustache, but his game has a personality that will please people new to platformers and veterans alike. This explosion-filled game has plenty of fun levels to ease in rookies, as well as plenty of difficult courses that will drive Mega Man fanatics crazy. The incredible single-player is enough to make 'Splosion Man an instant download, and I see the fantastic (albeit slightly flawed) multiplayer, as an added bonus. Those who make it all the way through 'Splosion Man will find one of the most humorous endings to grace a game, since Portal. With all this, 'Splosion Man is a steal at ten bucks, and would even be a worthy title at retail prices. If you've ignored every XBLA summer download up until now, this is the game to get. You won't be disappointed.
· A brilliant title that gives the best 2D platformers a run for their money
· Features some of the best level design I've seen in years
· Who doesn't love explosions?
· A perfect game for those who love speed runs
· Great puzzles that won't turn off those who found Braid too difficult
· A great title for those who appreciate games that require timing and quick reflexes
· The humorous ending that came out of nowhere
· The donut song
· Forgettable and sometimes annoying music
· Apparently, 'Splosion Man is Jar Jar Binks' long lost twin
· Unimpressive, repetitive visuals
· The multiplayer interface could use work
· If someone leaves your multiplayer game, you're forced to quit
· People can make you skip a level even if you aren't ready to leave
. It's difficult enough finding competent players, so good luck finding someone close to your skill level (who is patient).