Twisted Pixel's Ms. Splosion Man is like 'Splosion Man, but with more pink -- and the lead character wears a bow in her hair. Wait, she doesn't have hair... how does that bow stay in? Why doesn't it just burn up? This game makes no sense.
Score: 2 out of 10 -- Lacks realism; too pink; every button does, like, basically the same thing
Just kidding. The game's pretty awesome. No duh, right?
Ms. Splosion Man (Xbox Live Arcade)
Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
To be released: July 13, 2011
Price: 800 Microsoft Points ($10)
To say that Ms. Splosion Man is simply 'Splosion Man with a bow wouldn't do justice to the actual work Twisted Pixel has done with this follow-up. Even still, much of what I've already said in my 'Splosion Man review in 2009 applies, at least at its most basic level.
The game immediately feels like 'Splosion Man; if Twisted Pixel has made any tweaks to physics or speed, it's not evident. The gameplay remains the same, and fans of the original will find there aren't any real new tricks to learn. The game is still all about exploding to reach new heights, avoiding environmental hazards, and crossing the finish line without pulling your hair out over the game's tricky combustion-based platforming.
But that's not to say that Twisted Pixel hasn't taken every measure to make Ms. Splosion Man feel wholly novel within that fundamental gameplay framework. You're not a few 'splosions in before the developer is revealing its new cards, and they're all about the game's environments. Ms. Splosion Man can play on and interact with everything from rails to Donkey Kong Country barrel-inspired cannons, and more. The result is that the game's 50-plus stages are more interesting and more varied, as Twisted Pixel is able to play with the world and level design in all sorts of clever (and sometimes devious) ways.
True to life, Ms. Splosion Man has a tougher time in the workplace than her male counterpart. By mixing and matching tools both new and old, Twisted Pixel has managed to design levels that are even tougher than those found in the original. Ms. Splosion Man requires precision and killer reflexes to a far greater degree than its predecessor. With all of the "just made it" moments scattered throughout the game, Ms. Splosion Man is an easy candidate for "Most Toes Curled" and "Most Butt Cheeks Clenched" awards in 2011.
Some areas can become frustrating as you die repeatedly at the hands of Twisted Pixel's sadistic level designers, but nothing truly feels "toss the controller at your pet" impossible. With every failure, I knew it was of my own doing, and I was constantly pushing myself to try again and again until I got it right.
New to Ms. Splosion Man is a Super Mario Bros. 3-inspired world map, versus the last game's vanilla level-select screen. (Boxes with level names on them are so 2009, really.) It's not only an aesthetic improvement, but a functional one as well. The new map design allowed Twisted Pixel to add "tougher" levels (marked in red, with a scary skull face!) on non-critical paths for players looking for an extra challenge. Some levels even have alternate exits that lead to hidden levels, including a cute reference to Super Mario World's "Star Road."
While the most resolute players could probably clear all of the worlds in one or two sittings, I wouldn't recommend it. As I mentioned earlier, the game can become irritatingly difficult at times, and you'll likely want to step back and take a breather before tackling some of the challenges. Even still, if you were to make it to the final boss encounter (and find all of the hidden shoes and levels) in one sitting, there are more than a few reasons to keep playing.
Multiplayer is back, with up to four Ms. Splosion Men (both online and off, in any combination) blasting through a fresh set of levels. As it was with the first game, these levels are often tougher than the single-player levels, chiefly because many spots require stellar communication between players. And you know how that goes, especially online. There's also an unlockable "Two Girls, One Controller" mode that has one player controlling two Ms. Splosion Men on one controller. Or you can cuddle up with another player and play on one controller. Either way, it's probably one of the most batshit crazy ways to play a videogame outside of just waving your hands at a camera or something.
Ms. Splosion Man also keeps track of scores (based on a number of variables) and level completion time, and posts them to online leaderboards. I found myself headed back into levels I had previously conquered simply to best the five people who were playing the game last week for review. As extra incentive to become the best Ms. Splosion Man you can be, Twisted Pixel has also included "ghost" data, allowing you to not only race against your own previous runs, but the runs of the world's top performers.
Twisted Pixel's offbeat sense of humor is featured prominently in Ms. Splosion Man, although there appear to be more pop-culture references and inside jokes than in any of its previous games. While this isn't a bad thing by any means, it also means that the humor may not be universal. For example, I find Twisted Pixel's obsession with '90s-era Arnold Schwarzenegger films hilarious, but it might not click with some who aren't familiar with those movies. Still, it's nice to see that while Twisted Pixel obviously takes its game design seriously, it's more than willing to have a little fun (sometimes at its own expense) to get a laugh.
Ms. Splosion Man, in every respect, is a step up from Twisted Pixel's first foray into the Jumpsplode genre.* It's more of an evolution than a revolution, though: if you didn't like what the developer had to offer with 'Splosion Man, you're free to take a pass. (Also, consider taking up wasp nest collecting instead of playing videogames.) If you enjoyed the developer's first incendiary platformer, you've got no excuse not to go pink for Ms. Splosion Man.
* Later perfected by Capcom's MaXplosion, of course. Debug: 2