Ms. Splosion Man Review (Xbox360)

Yeesh, this is a difficult one. It’s a game that loads seem to love and it’s easy to see why. But, also, just like with a genre-mate like Super Meat Boy, it’s also just as easy to see why so many – including the person writing these words – finds it very difficult to love/adore/enjoy/tolerate Ms ‘Splosion Man.

What is this I don't even...
It’s not even as hard as SMB, but it can be just as frustrating at times. However, what sometimes tips it over the edge into “Right, screw this” off button-pushing territory is the heeeelarious vocalisations of the main character, who ends up being as funny as getting a genital wart lanced.

There’s a big audience for this sort of humour, clearly, so it’s a shame it’s landed on the console of someone who doesn’t belong to that demographic. Having said that, you can ignore the squeals and squawks for a while, until you start dying or having to repeat sections again and again.

This is where SMB at least had the sense to keep quiet, not to prod and poke the tortured soul at the controls with screeched renditions of Spice Girls lyrics. It’s an approach that offers a challenge to players and that’s fine, but so far do these games go down the difficult road that it’ll alienate any less dedicated gamers who might come across them.

An example, then, to illustrate this – a certain spouse who happened to witness the playing of Ms ‘Splosion Man was initially intrigued by the colourful visuals and platform stylings, but after a few minutes of seeing just how difficult even the first world’s final levels were, she utterly refused to play it.

This particular spouse is probably representative of a huge number of people, those who will hear of the game’s toughness and take a pass. Are you one of those people who break controllers with rage? Take a pass on this.

If you’re not, then you’ll get a lot of mileage from MSM, as it’ll give you a fairly lengthy challenge. Oh, and it does need to be mentioned at this point that you can skip any difficult bits you come up again, but if you’re doing this, you’re in that demographic that’s going to get driven crazy by this – as the dedicated will never skip any sections. However, it is at least good to have the option there. Points added for that.

If you want to know what the plot is, it’s… er… about a pink lady-creature who can cause herself to spontaneously explode… sorry, ‘splode… at will, three times before needing to recharge herself. Escaping from a lab or something, you make your way… actually, who cares? You’re surely not looking to play this for the storyline, are you?
This is more like it
You might read a hint of anger underlying this whole review so far, and you’d be correct in your interpretation. Your correspondent is angry because at times he did indeed have fun when everything flowed and annoyingly spaced checkpoints didn’t have to be constantly reloaded.

When it works, it’s a smooth, satisfying platform experience, very challenging but you feel like you’re getting somewhere, that it’s just on the right side of tough. Then you’ll hit a less well thought out bit and it all comes crashing down. You will, yes, be there half an hour later still trying to do it, but all of the good will the game had built up until that point will have long since dissipated and rage, anger and hatred will have replaced it.

As it’s an XBLA title, it’s more acceptable to frustrate players and yes, it is a good thing, in a way, for games not to just be a cakewalk from start to finish, but there’s got to be a happier medium than this and SMB. It nearly gets there on occasion, as mentioned, but too often do you hit walls of pure frustration. It’s also more difficult than Twisted Pixel’s original Splosion Man, which was much closer to that fabled ‘balanced challenge’ nirvana this genre wants to attain.

Since that first game, a few new things have appeared, like slide rails (can be fiddly) directional cannons (medium fiddliness) and jump pads (not that fiddly), but generally things are pretty similar, mechanics-wise.

It does have a lot of options if you do persevere, like a cooperative mode and various other non-story-related challenges and such. The co-op mode is a worthy addition, naturally, but the challenge modes are of course going to be even more hardcore than the rest of the game, so only the most dedicated will get anything out of those bits.

A bit more on the co-op section, actually. It consists of 50 more levels that aren’t just duplicates of the original single player ones. It can get pretty complex with up to four players ‘sploding everywhere, but it’s far more rewarding an experience than the frustrating single player one.
Alrighty then

Our conclusive advice is to avoid the single player in anything but very small doses when your chums aren’t around and stick to the co-op almost exclusively. It’s the reason the score you see attached to this review isn’t as low as you might have expected it to be from the rest of the review. Of course, chop at least a couple of points off the total if you don’t have any friends to play with and can’t stand the thought of trying to solve puzzles with random people.

Top Game Moment: Throwing the controller at the floor to avoid damaging the shiny new plasma screen TV I’d spent hundreds of pounds on. Carpet cushions the blow much better than glass.

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By written (SI Newbie) on Sep 02, 2011