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November 13, 2010

Splosion Man - Running toward greatness, one explosion at a time

I've never really been much of a "platformer" gamer. I never played the various Mario games; Donkey Kong was enjoyable at the time, but I hold no real fond memories of it other than as just one of the many coin-op games I played as a kid.

Recently, however, I've been getting into some of the more recent platforming type games. Comic Jumper kind of got me started. I've now gotten used to the frustrating aspect of playing levels again and again, learning the patterns of the jumps or enemies, trying to make that one perfect series of jumps to get to the next level. Trying, and often failing miserably. Until finally, it works!

Twisted Pixel, the creators of Comic Jumper, did another platformer last year, called Splosion Man. In Comic Jumper, you can actually "buy" a couple of extra Splosion Man levels, so after completing that game, it was almost a given that I buy this one. (Keep in mind that this is only available on Xbox Live Arcade, though, if this intrigues you)

(Looks happy, don't he?)

After finally completing the game, I'd have to say that Splosion Man is even more worth the money than Comic Jumper was, because it doesn't have the same flaws. It's a very back-to-basics platforming game with modern graphics and concepts.

There are no weapons to be horribly underpowered. It's just you jumping around, using the environments to their best advantage to move on to the next level and avoid getting killed. It's Mario on steroids, just with a different kind of jump.

Splosion Man jumps by exploding. Yes, you read that right. You push *any* of the four main buttons, and he explodes. If you're moving, he'll jump into the air in that direction. If you're against a wall, you'll push off that wall and move higher (that's how you can jump to higher levels, with some controlled wall-exploding). You can explode 3 times before wearing out. You must have contact with a platform or wall for a period of time to replenish your explosion. Either that, or exploding on top of one of the myriads versions of barrels will also rejuvenate you.

(Jumping up the walls before they contract)

The premise...ok, I'm not sure exactly what the premise is. These evil scientists did something to you, turning you into Splosion Man. But somehow you escaped, and you're trying to escape the entire complex. That's 50 levels. These scientists must be billionaires.

Hazards in the game vary from killer robots, gun turrets that will shoot you up unless you disable (i.e. explode next to and kill) the scientist controlling it), huge vats of bubbling green acid, rising water levels that you must get higher and higher to avoid, and so many others. The level design is deliciously wicked, so many kudos to Twisted Pixel for that.

What really makes the game fun, though, is the presentation. As you can see, the graphics are very bright. But there's also the sound, and Splosion Man himself. The main music sounds like it came out of some 60's party movie, but there are also different themes depending on your actions. There's a hilarious song when you pick up one of the huge donut-eating scientists to use as a gun shield (the song? "Donuts Go Nuts"). If you make it all the way through the game, there's a wonderful live-action video with a great song too, which makes watching the credits a lot easier to tolerate.

Finally, there's what Games Radar calls "a lovely, bromantic ballad written to ‘Splosion Man" called "The Splode Beneath My Splosion"

In addition to the music, there's just the overall cuteness of Splosion Man himself. If you let him rest, he'll do various things like juggle one-handed, do jumping jacks, do some head-banging action, or a number of other things. As you run from one side of a level to another, he'll sometimes hold his arms out and pretend he's an airplane coming in for a landing (even down to making the airplane sound!). He never gets visibly frustrated, no matter how many times you've killed him. He's just an all-around happy guy.

There's also just something hilariously twisted about "killing" mad scientists and having them explode into deli meat products.

(Now I'm hungry)

The levels are challenging without being too difficult. If you're an experienced platformer, you'll probably have less trouble than I did. Some of the levels involve exploding in the air again and again and again, sometimes using barrels to propel yourself onward multiple times, using extreme precision. If you don't make that jump exactly when you need to, it's very likely you'll fall into the acid and have to start over.

Thankfully, the checkpoint system is pretty forgiving. There are some sequences that you'll find yourself frustratingly repeating over and over because you keep dying, but you never have to go *too* far back. That is, unless you are playing hardcore mode (unlocked when you complete the basic game). In that mode, there are no checkpoints, and as soon as something hits you, it kills you (you can survive being shot in the basic game, for example). You still have to complete a level once you start it, or you have to do it all over again. There are no in-level saves. This can kind of get annoying when you're having so much trouble with a level that it takes you half an hour to finish it.

But that's my problem, not the game's.

In my review of Comic Jumper, I mentioned that you might want to wait until it hits the "bargain bin" on XBLA before getting it, unless you were a true fan of the genre. That definitely does not apply to Splosion Man. If you like platformers at all, and if you are an Xbox gamer, you have to get this game.

If you don't, he'll be very disappointed.

(how can you resist that face?)


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