Ms. Splosion Man Review: Shoes, Meat and The Macarena

Though I have a soft spot for The Maw, Twisted Pixel rose to fame with 2009’s Splosion Man. Splosion Man is an… unusual platformer that merged a simple gameplay concept (blowing yourself up, over and over) with intense challenges (navigating brutal stretches that are almost rhythm-based in design). Two years later, the Splosion Man franchise returns with Ms. Splosion Man – a game that builds up the original game in some very good ways. In fact, it’s easily stated that MSM is even crazier than the first game, in almost every way. With lengthy single and multiplayer options and tons of unlockables, Ms. Splosion Man also ranks as one of the deepest games on Xbox Live Arcade, making it a great buy for 800 Microsoft Points ($10). Just keep in mind that the game demands much from everyone… from start to finish.

Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Twisted Pixel
Developer: Twisted Pixel
Genre: Spazformer
Release Date: July 13, 2011
ESRB Rating: Teen

Ms. Splosion Man picks up after the events of the original. Somehow, Big Science has managed to capture Splosion Man, and they are living it up in celebration. In fact, you can see how this happens by downloading The Prologue level (for the original Splosion Man) free from Xbox Live Marketplace. Unfortunately, one of the scientists spills his celebratory alcoholic beverage, and it winds up landing on wires… wires that somehow lead to a chamber that produces Ms. Splosion Man. Naturally, she’s out for revenge. Like the original game, your goal is to “escape” by blowing up enemies, solving platforming puzzles, and finding hidden items. In this case, the cake from the first game has been replaced by — of course — shoes. As with Splosion Man, there’s also a cooperative story mode that has completely different levels from the solo adventure. Combined, there’s a hundred levels worth of sploding.

Ms. Splosion Man can best be seen as an entry in the “masocore” movement – brutally difficult game design for only the most patient and/or skilled players. If you played 2010’s smash hit Super Meat Boy, you should have an idea of what to expect here: a tough-as-nails platformer that has no problem making you cry like a little girl. In many ways, MSM is also a “rhythm” platforming game; success in most levels can be pinned directly on keeping a timer in your head for jumps and the like. To counter the high level of challenge, the game features very simple gameplay mechanics — all you can do is press any of the face buttons to explode. There’s nothing else happening. The trick is how you use your explosions – many jumps require perfect double and even triple jumps that will end in death if they’re not done right. However, there are very few “cheap” deaths in the game; some might require a bit of trial and error but rarely does it treat you poorly.

Fundamentally, Ms. Splosion Man is not all that different from Splosion Man, as the core gameplay concept is the exact same. To mix it up, Twisted Pixel has added a few other tricks. Most evident are the new beam riding aspects, which require pitch-perfect timing to dodge obstacles or reach ledges. Combined with some “traditional” platforming — the introduction of “Big Science Cars” is where you’ll see it first – these can be mighty tricky areas. The game also has some interesting “hot/cold” zones where Ms. Splosion Man can either explode forever (since it’s so hot), or not be able to splode at all (because it’s too cold). It’s a nice new gameplay addition that isn’t overused.

What makes Ms. Splosion Man stand out is the absolutely insane sense of humor. In the first game, Splosion Man collected cakes and spouted off random Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes. His female equivalent, on the other hand, is, well, a teenage girl? It’s crazy enough that you collect shoes – which she’ll put on immediately and finish the level — but Lady Splosion will also spout some of the craziest one-liners about (mostly) teenage girl issues. She also likes to sing all the “girl power” type songs, especially some of the bigger hits from the 1990s. I’m not kidding here… hearing her sing songs from En Vogue or the Spice Girls is a trip and a half. If you let her idle on the screen, you might also see her dancing skills, even if you really don’t want to see “The Carlton.” or have horrible flashbacks when she performs “The Macarena.” In all honesty, without this insane atmosphere, Ms. Splosion Man might have been an ordinary (if not ball-bustingly hard) 2D platforming game – with it, it’s the kind of thing one must experience to believe.

Ms. Splosion Man is not as fresh as its predecessor, but like the transition from Pac-Man to Ms Pac Man, there’s a lot of improvements which make it a better game. Thanks to more visual variety, a great soundtrack, tons of bonus features (seriously, the extras menu is a goldmine of amazing), and a really great price, Ms. Splosion Man is one of the best titles on the Live Arcade. It definitely won’t appeal to people without patience – death is a common occurrence and every level is full of tricky segments – but if you liked Super Meat Boy and want another game that has no problem making you its bitch, this is your fix. Now, Twisted Pixel… get with what the kids want (or at least what this kid wants) and make The Maw 2. You know, before the inevitable Baby Splosion Man game.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Ms. Splosion Man was provided by Twisted Pixel for the purposes of this review.

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