Game Review: 'Splosion Man

August 4, 2009

Just in time for summer, indie studio Twisted Pixel has unleashed a scorcher in the form of 'Splosion Man. Is this yet another me-too platformer built around an oddball gimmick, or does it have that crucial spark?

One day, 'Splosion Man busts out of his cell at Big Science. He doesn't seem angry about his captivity; he's rather more ebullient than anything else. The facility's staff, though, is less than enthused. Maybe because standing too close to 'Splosion Man usually results in them splattering to bits that resemble the products in a cartoon butcher's case.

In spite of everything about it that's jarring and flamboyant, 'Splosion Man is the model of simplicity. Your character is capable of a single action--propelling himself into the air via self-combustion--and increasingly clever and skillful executions of this are all it takes to get through the game's 50 levels. The stages get progressively deadlier as you progress, with telescoping spiked walls, inconveniently located acid vats, and insta-kill mid-air energy beams, among other hazards. These are arranged in ways that require more and more precise 'splosions to successfully navigate.

From this spare toolbox, 'Splosion Man builds a game experience that's delightfully varied in pace. In some levels, you're free to puzzle out the correct path at your leisure, 'sploding through the environments until you connect the dots that lead to the next checkpoint. In others, you're literally racing against the clock, which can manifest as a gradually rising pool of water (that needless to say, will snuff you out on contact), or a giant robot that's chasing you down a tunnel littered with obstacles.


As you can see, the game can be quite unforgiving, though it seldom feels frustrating. Part of this has to do with how thoughtfully the checkpoints are distributed--you usually won't have to retread much ground when you die, and die you will. The fast pace has a lot to do with it, too. When your brain and thumbs are gunning it at the tempo the game often calls for, it can be hard to slow down enough to feel deflated by failure.

Clocking in at around five hours, the 800 point game is more than worth the price entry, especially when you consider that there are 50 multiplayer stages on top of the single-player. The co-op game finds the operative mechanic amplified by the presence of up to three other 'Splosion Men who are able to chain jumps off one another. You can play online, though given how demanding some of the timing can be, you're probably better served by playing locally with friends in the same room.

'Splosion Man is able to 'splode, and that's where it begins and ends, sort of. You can 'splode up to three times, enabling you to triple-jump, until your spark fizzles out for a few seconds. Once you land on the ground or hit a vertical surface, you'll reignite, allowing you to resume 'sploding. There are numerous elements in each level that enable you to propel yourself to greater heights, or else affect other sorts of changes in the environments. Barrels are everywhere; if you 'splode onto the greens ones, they shoot you super far, while the orange ones give you a modest boost. Pop a red one and you send it flying, usually in the direction of a scientist controlling a booby trap.

The most memorable moments in 'Splosion Man involve lengthy chains of 'sploding propulsion, usually involving sequences of harrowing barrel and triangle jumps that put you in a bleary-eyed zone. During moments like this, you almost forget that the obstacles and hazards are there, so focused are you on nailing the precise rhythm of your jumps.


You occasionally have to stop and do some actual fighting against robots that you foil by 'sploding on their weak bits or reflecting their missiles back onto them, but with a few exceptions, these encounters amount to mere speed bumps. Same goes for the boss fights, which work the same, only on a more drawn out scale. 'Splosion Man is all about blasting through the levels so fast that you almost don't realize you're solving their puzzles. It's a good thing that it focuses on precisely these kinds of moments.

'Splosion Man's look and feel is masterfully crafted. The character himself, with his spastic ranting and crazed animation, evokes Woody Woodpecker at his most deranged, reimagined for the 21st Century. He's the perfect lead for game that hits its aesthetic tone by exploding hapless bystanders into piles of cartoon meat. Everything else looks great overall, with a coherent look that's at the same time cheery and sinister. It also sounds wonderful, with a score that approaches the variety of the great classic cartoon shows. Insofar as game characters can be said to have star power, 'Splosion Man has it in spades.


Even if all the crazy platforming gives you pause, you should still check out 'Splosion Man if you're at all interested in this kind of game. There's a lot here, the price is right, and games this well-realized don't come along very often. If you ask us, this manic little ball of fire has a long career ahead of him.

Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox Live Arcade.

Source: Twisted Pixel