Review / Ms. Splosion Man single-player (XBLA)

Almost two years ago, I had the (mis)fortune to review Splosion Man, an Xbox Live Arcade title that featured a man, seemingly hyped up on cocaine and set ablaze, allowed to run rampant within the confines of his creator’s factory; I was not impressed. In fact, I didn’t like Splosion Man at all and the taste of the game has yet to leave my mouth. Enter Ms. Splosion Man, a sequel – of sorts – to the first game. With the same control scheme and basic 2D side-scrolling platform gameplay, can this follow up title splode my hardened heart? The short answer: Yes.

Ms. Splosion Man takes place directly after the original Splosion Man is finally captured following his sploding spree around Big Science, the lab responsible for his creation. As the crew gathers to celebrate the end of the sploding reign of terror with a huge party, full of drinks and hats and steaks, someone spills a tasty beverage on some sort of sensitive scientific equipment. Sparks and flames fly in all directions as the camera follows a series of wires and conduits, finally centering on a yellow ribbon floating peacefully into a lab test chamber, only to have it touch the ground and create the game’s namesake. Ms. Splosion Man is off running.

One of my main gripes with the original Splosion Man was the fact the game just threw players into the mix without a hint of what to do; Ms. Splosion Man is no different. Once the introduction scene is complete, it’s up to the player to figure out what each button does or doesn’t do. Sure, I could pause the game and go to the controller settings to see what is what, but I think it is the old-school gamer in me that appreciates a basic tutorial level at the start of any game. Of course, it’s not really difficult to figure out how to control Ms. Splosion Man: the left stick controls the crazed woman on fire, the right stick moves the camera, any face button makes for one splosion, and  a self-destruct splosion is caused by keeping the right trigger pressed for a few seconds. Easy peasy lemon squeezy – in theory.

Ms. Splosion Man is unapologetic in its toughness. In retrospect, it could be said that the first few levels of the game are the tutorial my gaming heart cries out for. They are fairly easy and allow for boundary testing of the Ms’s limits, as well as providing familiarization with the lengths and heights the fiery wonder can attain. That is only to lull me into a false sense of security, since the game chooses to hammer me back down to earth with childish glee.

Take, for example, a level in which Ms. Splosion Man leaves the factory and sees the outside world, with Jetson-esque cars travelling underneath the Big Science building, for a moment. Instead of jacking a jetcar and flying off to freedom, Ms must jump from moving car to moving car, sploding them along the way, for a good while. Along the way, the jetcars will occasionally just crash into one another, forcing me to splode and hope I land on another car or a mysterious floating barrel. One misstep and it’s back to the previous checkpoint. A checkpoint that typically starts at the beginning the toughest part of a level, with the following check point directly after the toughest part. There’s no mid-point saving, Ms. Splosion Man wants all or nothing.

The gameplay of Ms. Splosion Man aside, the world in which she inhabits is gorgeous. Everything seems to pop with vibrant – mostly pink – colors. From the celebration banners hanging from the rafters to the sheen on the windows that just beg for some sploding, each level is down right pretty. When you can see it. It’s not that things are dark or obscured of “artistically” rendered, no. A window is a window, a soda machine is a soda machine, a guy bursting into piles of steak… you get the idea. What I am saying is while the world is surprisingly pretty, at times there is too much going on to see where Ms. Splosion Man is and where she’s going, little less the handcrafted couch scenery. Whenever she splodes, a puff of pink smoke, as well as sparks flying and steaks tumbling and occasional scientist ‘hitting’ the TV screen, obscures Ms for just a bit, but it’s that split second in which she isn’t visible that could cause a controller throwing tantrum. That scenario I described earlier, with the jetcars? My problem was placed firmly in the fact that once I sploded off a car, I couldn’t tell where she was on screen because of everything else going on within the action area. Many times I found her as she was falling off the screen.

Let’s get right down to it. Ms. Splosion Man is a solid game with a few little gripes and complaints. The platforming action, however much may have been copy-and-pasted from the original game, is well done. Despite the occasional action obscuring graphics, the game is surprisingly attractive. If you liked the original Splosion Man, it’s a safe bet you’ve already bought this game as well. If not, or you’re on the fence about the purchase, you should definitely consider it. If for nothing else, get it to hear Ms. Splosion Man quote famous female singer-songwriters, as well as stereotypical “valley girl” sayings, she splodes her way through Big Science labs.

+ It’s so pretty
+ Solid platformer gameplay
+ Easy to pick up and play

– Action occasionally obscured by prettiness
– Not enough checkpoints
– No tutorial