'Splosion Man Impressions: Blown Away

By Nick Breckon, Jun 11, 2009 12:46pm PDT As a platformer, 'Splosion Man (XBLA) is a blood relative of Sonic the Hedgehog. But as a relative, 'Splosion Man is the freakish uncle that your mother never let you talk to.

Running about levels, the 'Splosion Man fans out his arms into an airplane. He drops his jaw, and lowers his arms like a neandrathal, and moans like an idiot. And then he explodes.

This kind of behavior justifiably terrifies 'Splosion Man's victims, the mad scientists that presumably created him--though not so much for them to stop experimenting on other creatures. Caught unaware, they cower and flee as the gleeful 'Splosion Man gives chase. And then he explodes.

You do a lot of exploding in 'Splosion Man. In fact, the only thing you can do in the game is explode: it's mapped to almost every button. It is your jump; your attack; your special attack. If you explode several times in a row, 'Splosion Man has to recharge for a moment. And then he can explode again.

There is a great flow to 'Splosion Man. He's a zany guy when he gets rolling, and the explosions only help to keep him moving, barreling forward to free creatures and blow scientists to smithereens. In that sense, 'Splosion plays a bit like Sonic, but with less loop-de-loops, and more megatonnage. Much of the 'Splosion Man demo involved wall-jumping, a fun videogame activity when it's made this easy. One explosion propels the Man to the wall, and the next ricochets him up, and up, and up. Sometimes he uses exploding barrels to rocket further. Sometimes he has to land on a platform. Most of the time it's a lot of fun.

Hardcore platforming was the only problem with 'Splosion Man, but being a platformer, that's tough to ignore. A few of the platforms were too far away. A few jumps reminded me of 1993. A few consecutive, unjust deaths had me scratching my head.

'Splosion Man doesn't have to be hard to be fun. Jumping along, blasting through plate glass windows, running down scientists for firey hugs--the core mechanics work. It's when the pace grinds to a halt, and you're forced to attempt the same crazy Donkey Kong Country-style jumps for ten minutes, that the game loses its punch. It's the difference between inventive and challenging jumping puzzles, and absurd jumping puzzles.

But Twisted Pixel's game is so lighthearted--and the checkpoints used so liberally--that even after missing a jump twelve times in a row, I never reached ragequit levels of frustration. In fact, messing around in 'Splosion Man was an E3 highlight. It also has fifty levels designed specifically for four-player co-op. Definitely check it out on Xbox Live Arcade later this summer.

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