Starts with a bang, but starts to fizzle out later on
‘Splosion Man is a two-dimensional platformer easily summarised by its title alone – you control a man who likes to spontaneously combust, or ‘Splode as the game likes to call it. I suppose there’s a bit of narrative in the way that ‘Splosion Man starts off as a laboratory experiment who wishes to escape from his scientist enslavers, but to look at the story in any greater depth would be missing the game’s point. ‘Splosion Man never takes itself too seriously and despite a few design flaws here and there, it stays fun because of that.
The character you control is a man of one trade. Press any of the Xbox 360’s four face buttons and you’ll ‘Splode on the spot, a skill which can be used three times in a row before ‘Splosion Man fizzles out and is forced to recharge his combustible powers again. While it may sound like a single ability would limit the amount of unique gameplay on offer, ‘Splosion Man instead focuses on the player’s ability to chain timed button presses together to interact with a number of different environmental obstacles in order to progress through each level. A regular ‘splosion will make your character propel himself off the ground in a similar fashion to jumping in any other platformer. ‘Splode into a wall and you’ll be able to ‘splode once more to leap off again wall jump style. Explosive barrels also play a prominent role in the game, allowing you to extend the size of your leaps.
Unfortunately, most of ‘Splosion Man’s tricks are over within the first few levels of the game. While later levels may throw more different obstacles, enemies and hazards your way, there aren’t enough to make the levels feel fresh for very long. As a result, the latter half of the game can start to feel a little tiring as the only thing differentiating each of the levels is the amount of well-timed button presses you’ll need to pull off in order to make it to the next checkpoint. While the levels themselves aren’t exceptionally long, the difficulty can get fairly demanding and the checkpoints are far enough apart to make levels feel like a chore. At times I would find myself playing no more than a single level in between other games, just because I was so exhausted by the time I had finished that I wouldn’t be able to stand putting myself through the same frustration for another ten minutes or so.
Since all of your jumps are made by ‘sploding, the game’s controls don’t always have the same precision that you might come to expect from other 2D platformers. That means leaping from platform to platform can sometimes prove fiddly, especially if said platforms are moving, but never too bad that I would feel like quitting out of frustration. The camera can also be a bit of a nuisance in some of the rooms, particularly on standard definition televisions, as it can become hard to see exactly what you’re doing when the screen zooms out and you’re forced to focus on an orange speck to complete a series of tricky jumps.
For the completionist, the game offers a collectible for each level in the form of a slice of cake for you to find. Most levels are fairly linear so finding a cake usually breaks down to exploring off the beaten track of the larger rooms or taking the less obvious path, but the fact that the cakes are there as something to do once you’ve beaten the game is a nice little extra. The game also features a cooperative multiplayer mode for those able to coordinate synchronised ‘splosions with friends, as well as a time-trial mode with Xbox Live leaderboards and an additional difficulty level which removes checkpoints for those who have already conquered the game at least once before. The last one can be easier than it sounds once you learn the timing for each level, although there are still some levels whose enemies pose some randomness that can be more than a little bit frustrating at times.
If you’ve already played Twisted Pixel’s first Live Arcade game, The Maw, then ‘Splosion Man’s visual style should feel fairly familiar. The game is fully rendered in 3D and everything looks very crisp while retaining a very simplistic style in both texturing and modelling. It’s a bit of a shame that the only discernable difference between each of the three stages is a background palette swap, since the levels may have felt a little fresher otherwise. However, the animation is great so if you’re looking for a good looking new arcade title to add to your collection, ‘Splosion Man has you covered.
Perhaps the best reason for me to recommend a purchase of ‘Splosion Man above all other things would be its use of humour throughout the game. From the restless, overly-caffeinated main character himself to each of the cutscenes played for the introduction of a new character or enemy, there’s a real charm to ‘Splosion Man which can be easily appreciated no matter how old you are. Some of the funniest moments -- such as the ending and credits combo as well as the infectiously catchy “Everybody loves donuts” tune which plays each time you start using a fat scientist character hostage as a shield – weren’t even necessary for the ‘Splosion Man experience. The fact that they are there, though, goes to show just how much extra effort Twisted Pixel has put into the game. While getting to the end was a huge test of my resilience, being blindsided by such an endearing ending was the best gift I could ask for.
At 800 Microsoft Points, the value you get out of ‘Splosion Man depends largely on how much effort you put in. If you’re willing to go the extra mile to beat it in spite of a few frustrating challenges, then chances are you‘ll find the five-to-six hours worth your while.