'Splode your way through an addictive and challenging ride
Alright then, picture this if you will. A science experiment gone horribly wrong, mixed with an over the top Warner Brothers cartoon, topped off with pounds and pounds of assorted meats. Got the image? Great, now blow the entire thing up! Beautiful, isn’t it? Congratulations, you’ve just acquired the perfect state of mind to enjoy 'Splosion Man, the first offering in the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade. With a unique premise and addictive and highly challenging gameplay, 'Splosion Man is definitely starting this summer off with a bang (Sorry, the joke was too easy to pass up, it won’t happen again).
The story behind 'Splosion Man is incredibly simple. Chaos has erupted in a top secret lab because a highly volatile experiment has escaped. That experiment is the titular “hero” who also happens to be playfully insane. Your job is to guide 'Splosion Man through a plethora of obstacles and traps to free him from his captors. The game does a fantastic job of establishing the setting and characters within the first few minutes. There aren’t many twists and turns throughout the experience, but that doesn’t really matter because once you start “'sploding”, you’ll find it very hard to stop.
At its core, 'Splosion Man is a 2D platformer where you make the main character explode to jump and attack. You can 'splode up to three times, enabling you to reach greater heights or jump long distances, before having to stop and recharge your flames. As you progress, the game gives you explosive barrels to use to your advantage by either launching you across the stage or attacking a distant enemy. For many of the single player levels, success depends upon your ability to chain together wall and barrel jumps while dodging acid pits, lasers, and the occasional killer robot. And if a scientist happens to get in your way, a simple 'splode will literally turn that braniac into a pile of delicious meats.
The controls are just as simple as the story since every face button has the same function…'splode! However, 'Splosion Man isn’t exactly a casual Mario-style platformer. While the early levels are pretty straightforward, the game quickly becomes a lot tougher and the difficulty spike only gets worse as you progress through the 50 single player levels. Jumps have to be absolutely perfect, timing must be impeccable, and some obstacles can only be passed through repetition and memorization. Basically, be ready to die A LOT. After a number of deaths, the game does give you an option to take The Way of the Coward and skip the level completely (at the cost of donning a Tutu for the next level), but if you’re the persistent type, like me, the frequent notifications will become more annoying than helpful. But if you’re just in it to have fun and see the game’s remarkable and hilarious conclusion, it’s a nice feature to have.
The very premise of blowing yourself up to progress is enough to make this title stand out, but the graphical presentation is what really makes this game special. Character models are bold and expressive, with special attention going to Splosion Man himself. His demented grin is immediately endearing and his cartoony animations will constantly make you smile. You will also encounter a few equally funny and impressive bosses, but their charm will quickly diminish since every single boss kills you in one hit and failure means restarting the entire fight from the beginning. Still, toppling one of those mighty foes is a satisfying and cinematic experience that should ease the pain of pulled hair or broken controllers.
Most of the great cartoons throughout history are nothing without great sound design and, luckily, 'Splosion Man succeeds in this department as well. Every level is accompanied by an upbeat orchestral score that perfectly complements the frenetic gameplay and setting. And while there really aren’t any full dialogue scenes in the game, 'Splosion Man’s constant babbling and the panicked screams of the scientists more than make up for it. Not to mention, there’s a nifty musical tribute to donuts and one of the greatest ending themes to ever grace a video game (fans of adult swim cartoons will especially get a kick out of it).
Even after finishing the game, there are still a ton of options to keep you coming back. In addition to the single player, there’s an entirely separate cooperative multiplayer campaign that can be enjoyed offline or across Xbox Live. In this equally lengthy mode, up to 4 players must coordinate and 'splode off of each other to reach higher platforms and complete objectives. Also, in both modes, there are hidden cakes to find and time challenges to complete. Finally, if you want that complete gamerscore, there’s a hardcore difficulty setting to truly test your gaming prowess.
'Splosion Man is truly one of the best titles to grace the Xbox Live Arcade. The game seamlessly combines a unique premise with familiar gameplay and current generation production values. Even though the difficulty spikes occasionally detract from what makes the game great, its still an enjoyable and addictive ride from start to finish. And, at the great price of 800 Microsoft points, 'Splosion Man gives you a lot of bang for your buck (That joke was unintentional…I swear).