Ms. Splosion Man review (XBLA)
- Twisted Pixel Games
Formats: Xbox 360
Format reviewed: Xbox 360
Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Made2Game Ms. Splosion Man review score: 9/10
When Twisted Pixel first unveiled Ms. ‘Splosion Man, this feminine-spirited sequel to their 2007 title ‘Splosion Man, they said that they viewed Ms. Pac-Man as the perfect evolution of an original idea. So alongside simply being an entertaining premise they hoped basing their sequel design on Midway’s at-first-unofficial-but-now-official Pac-Man sequel would help them tap into some of its success.
However, to say this is Ms. ‘Splosion Man’s only design influence would be ignorance of the highest order. Mario Bros 3 is just as clear an influence, with a map screen, optional levels, and heaps of secrets shamelessly cribbing from Mario’s evolution from Bros 1 to Bros 3. Mind you, we imagine calling this ‘Splosion Man 3 in reverence would have just been confusing…
Man, I Feel Like a Woman
The plot goes like this – the scientists of the Big Science corporation have finally captured the original orange menace ‘Splosion Man, but in the midst of their celebratory throes manage to accidentally create a ‘Sploding creature of the fairer sex, titled Ms. ‘Splosion Man (Honestly though, shouldn’t it be ‘Splosion Woman? Stop questioning it. Shut up brain).
Ms. ‘Splosion Man then immediately takes it upon herself, as if by design, to traverse the labs, beaches, and factories of Big Science to free her male counterpart.
In terms of gameplay, this is essentially the same ‘Splosion Man you played in 2007. From scientists dying in showers of meat, to the wilful and entertaining destruction of scenery, to the three ‘splode rule, the core concept has not been drastically altered.
What you will notice, however, is just how much more Ms. ‘Splosion Man does around this core concept. All the first game’s ideas return, from human shields to blast barrels and features more wall jumps than you can shake a well ‘sploded steak at, but there is so much more besides.
Ziplines, Donkey Kong Country style cannons, Energy Ball keys, Geriatric bowling chairs; the broad range of elements helps the game avoid the idea stagnation of the first title and means you’ll remain intrigued to see just what the genius minds at Twisted Pixel decide to do with them next.
Unfortunately there are still issues. The most glaring problem are the occasionally sparse checkpoints that can lead to some head-shakingly irritating repetition, as a necessity for cockroach-like reactions leads to the game’s more action-orientated tasks having a trial and error feel and all but the most hardy of gamers will start to feel a little sour on having to repeat sections when dealing with the game’s harder tasks.
There is still a method of skipping through levels though, which is a godsend for people who just want to see what the game has to offer.
But as with the gameplay, this is nothing new and while it’s unfortunate that there aren’t more checkpoints, the thrill of finally cracking a section by half a cat’s whisker is incomparably satisfying gaming, and that’s before you even consider time trialing…
The true champion of the gameplay improvements is the map and how it effortlessly opens up the game. Fact is, in the first ‘Splosion Man most people were either worn out before they reached the end or simply dropped it once the credits rolled. What a map does is give a sense of tangibility and length to the challenge, while simultaneously encouraging replayability and secret hunting.
But alongside this what ultimately impresses most about Ms. ‘Splosion Man is its ability to cater to a huge variety of players, largely through this friendlier interface and more confidence in its design.
The lover of secrets can try and find the game’s mountain of varied hidden shoes and secret level exits. The lover of challenges has optional hard levels and the ridiculous 'one life per level' hardcore mode. The speed runner can get to grips with the game’s perfect controls and show off through their ghost data appearing on the leaderboard. The spectacle lover can ‘golly’ and ‘gosh’ their way through the game’s frequently exhilarating rollercoaster challenges. While the ‘I just wanna have fun-er’ can enjoy the funny cutscenes and wacky bonus content, able to skip hard challenges and just get on with it.
Oh and there is still a great co-op multiplayer mode that doubles the game’s length and can even be played on one controller for people with no friends. It's as improved as the single player is thanks to incorporating all the same new elements.
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
But this isn’t what grants Ms. ‘Splosion Man its status as a must-play, although it is more than enough reason to want to play it. No, what helps elevate Ms. ‘Splosion Man higher than its shopping list of improvements could do alone is the amount of extrinsic factors that funnel into making this an enjoyable experience you’ll want to force upon friends once you’ve had a taste yourself.
Ms. ‘Splosion Man’s words and actions are an onslaught of film and music references while the locations make constant nods to Twisted Pixel’s beardy dev team. The huge array of unlockable photos, art, films, and extras that comes complete with sarcastic commentary from the developers themselves. The design elicits a clear love of gaming circa the NES & SNES era specifically and will instantly appeal to anyone who enjoys games from that era. Ms. ‘Splosion Man’s style is wonderfully self aware and all the more appealing for it.
All of these elements can’t fail to raise grins and nods of endearment from anyone born before the nineties as it celebrates everything female from Dirty Dancing and Ace of Base to Notting Hill and Paula Cole. You’ve not lived till you’ve heard the titular character’s out of tune rendition of Beyonce’s Crazy in Love.
Oh and if the final boss doesn’t cause your face to erupt into a nostalgia-induced grin then you’ve not been playing games long enough, or you’re in serious need of some education.
The Winner Takes it All
It’s almost a shame we have to point out the game’s shortcomings in the checkpoint department as aside from that one real caveat, which will drag the game down almost unnecessarily in some people’s eyes, Ms. ‘Splosion Man is a brilliant title.
It’s a bulky game too, at roughly 4/5 hours for a basic run and several more polishing off hard levels, a lot more finding secrets, then double that to tackle the game’s comparably sized multiplayer component, and this is before we even consider the incoming free DLC. There is a lot to Ms. ‘Splosion Man, and it does more than enough to keep itself fresh for the entire run this time around.
It’s wacky, it’s silly, but it’s also hugely playable and delightfully in love with itself. The Texan wizards at Twisted Pixel have grown not just into one of XBLA’s finest developers, but also into one of the best neo-retro designers in the industry full stop through a unique style and love of compulsive classic design. But then as good as Ms. ‘Splosion Man is - and it is very good - we know it’s the series’ Super Mario Bros 3, so here’s to ‘Splosion Man World. We know you’ve got it in you…
Words: James Bowden
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