I needed to take a break from wading through the story of yet another JRPG, so I downloaded a couple demos – including the demo for ‘Splosion Man. After a mere few minutes going through a couple of the first levels, I was hooked and had to get the full game, which is available from the Xbox Live Marketplace for 800 Microsoft Points ($10).
‘Splosion Man is a puzzle/platformer where the aim is to clear levels by using your character – a lab-created experiment, apparently – to explode, thus performing many tasks depending on the tools and the environment around you. At first its nothing but exploding off the ground or walls to get to higher places, but later on you’re faced with roving enemies out to get you, laser guns that will zap you, pits of acid that will melt you and many, many other obstacles to overcome. There are various devices placed in the environment to help you accomplish the task of making it through the level, such as exploding barrels that propel you higher, switches to unlock various gates and even scientists controlling the aforementioned obstacles, which you have to take out to progress.
You only have three explosions available before you have to “recharge” yourself by touching the ground, a wall or an exploding barrel, which adds to the strategy of clearing the stages. If you fail to hit one of those re-chargers in certain cases, you’ll fall back to the ground, or sometimes, to your death. However, death is very forgiving – there are frequently-placed checkpoints and an unlimited number of lives. One feature I like, mostly because I’m not really all that great at these types of games, is the “Way of the Coward” option. After you’ve died so many times on a particular level, you can skip the rest of the level altogether. However, you get an insanely high completion time (for no hope of placing anything higher than dead last on the leaderboards) and are forced to wear a tutu through the next level. (Once you complete another level the way its supposed to be completed, the tutu disappears.) Some might call that feature lame, I call it good game design for catering to many different skill levels. I can clear most obstacles in most levels, but there’s one or two that weren’t worth the trouble of continuing to bang my head against.
The character – Mr. ‘Splosion Man himself – is a joy to control. He’s full of life, has many different animations and his dialog (if you can call it that) can be quite hilarious at times. Control, for the most part, is accurate and not very wishy-washy, which I find refreshing in a platformer. Also, some of the acrobatics that you are forced to perform to clear some obstacles are amazingly fun when accomplished correctly.
Unfortunately, the single player game is where all the fun is. The multi-player is just plain annoying. The goal of most multi-player levels is to somehow manipulate both characters in a manner that will precisely move them in a way so as to clear obstacles. There’s basic tutorials to help you do these things, but it doesn’t explain much how your characters are supposed to move when these “moves” are performed. Many times you have to move at the same time and explode off of each other to move in opposite directions, yet it seems haphazard in the direction your character actually ends up moving. One time they’ll “bounce” off each other and move in opposite direction, other times while performing the same “move” they’ll both move in the same direction. Its hard to control and more of a headache than any fun. Its a shame the multi-player isn’t more multi-player-friendly, to make this truly an awesome title. There is a countdown you can activate to help time your jumps, but for the most part, it doesn’t help, in practice.
Overall, this is a great diversion and an awesome addition to the Xbox Live Arcade, if only for the single-player experience. A definite “must buy”, especially for the whacky dialog and the fun of blowing stuff up.