Developer Twisted Pixel made a good splash onto the XBLA scene with the release of The Maw, a charming 3D platformer that came out earlier this year. Their latest effort, Splosion Man, takes the opposite approach by being a tough, over-the-top side-scrolling 2.5D puzzle platformer that definitely will appeal to the more hardcore fans of Xbox Live Arcade.
There really isn’t much of a story at all to Splosion Man. Since the entire game takes place in a giant scientific research facility, it’s safe to assume that he’s an experiment gone awry that is either trying to escape or is just causing mischief, which is a bit of a tame description when you will probably end up killing hundreds of scientists throughout the game. The titular character himself can probably best be explained as an explosive Tasmanian Devil, in that he’s all about chaos and destruction in a fairly uncivilized manner.
Though Splosion Man is a platformer, it definitely will not play like your standard side-scrolling platformer. The levels are designed mostly for wall jumps as your main method for getting around and, of course, exploding as your main attack or way of interacting with the environment. The great thing is that Twisted Pixel did a great job of designing levels so that they rarely feel like rehashes of previous levels along with introducing new ways to get past certain obstacles to keep those kinds of reoccurring sequences from feeling too stale. The co-op mode has the same kind of attention paid to its levels, as well, so there are additional moves added to encourage teamwork to progress through levels.
While Splosion Man has plenty of varied levels, the difficulty may be an issue for the less skilled players out there. Some of the reoccurring sequences, specifically the sequences involving rising water and spiked walls and floors that you must stay ahead of by getting through that portion of the level perfectly, which can be a trial-and-error process and add frustration if your timing is even off by a little bit. Like you’d expect, the game does start off on the easy side and gradually gets tougher as you progress through the single-player campaign, though the toughest parts weren’t too hard to get past eventually. Luckily, you’re offered the Way of the Coward option after a certain amount of deaths, which lets you skip to the next level with the only penalty being that Splosion Man has to wear a tutu for the entirety of that next level. Bosses also come into play with three main bosses ending each of the three chapters that do not feature checkpoints, so you must start over from the beginning each time if you die, like an old-school platformer.
Getting beyond frustration and enjoyment, Splosion Man just offers a ton of content and replayability. Both the single-player and co-op campaigns have 50 unique levels each that also offer par times for each level, which you will likely not reach once your first time through. Par times basically encourage speed runs through the game by playing through levels over and over again to get your routine down pat to prove you’re the best amongst your friends or the world. If you believe the title of the achievement that is attached to it, there is a birthday cake in each level that can be easy or hard to reach that you will want to collect for the achievement, titled Not a Portal Reference. If you want it broken down into length, a normal playthrough of either campaign will take about five hours or so and aiming for the par times and/or cake will add a lot of replayability, which means over ten hours of content for the 800 point price tag.
Splosion Man does a great job of communicating the great, ridiculous personality that makes the game a joy to play. The titular character has a few different running, jumping, standing, and even leaning-against-a-wall animations that range from exaggerated running to cartwheel-style jumps that really do a great job of making Splosion Man an entertain character. He also speaks a bit, though usually through grunts, a few lines of dialog, and other noises he’ll make that make the great animation even better. Levels are very well-designed with great set pieces that give the game a bit of a unique pacing to it when you get in the zone, like the first few Sonic games. The music is also another standout part of the presentation as the normal soundtrack is enjoyable along with some of the added songs from the likes of the Donut Man and in the ending credits that makes it one of the best endings to a game in recent memory.
Though Splosion Man definitely is a platformer on the harder side of the difficulty fence, the great level design and presentation really does a great job of making you want to continue playing to see what’s next even when you get frustrated. For just 800 points, $10 in real money, there is a ton of content here that can keep you coming back for more for a while after you beat one or both campaigns that the game has to offer.