Developer: Twisted Pixel / Publisher: Microsoft / ESRB: Teen [Cartoon Violence, Drug Reference, Mild Lyrics, Mild Suggestive Themes] / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: 800 MS Points
Welcome to a new love-hate relationship. You’ll fall for the quirky, charismatic Ms. Splosion Man before you’ve even moved the analogue stick and she passes the time by performing the Macarena. But you’ll want to punch her in the face when the game punishes you for not having the reactions of a ninja cat on steroids.
Ms. Splosion Man is awesome. Its Mario influences are clear, but Twisted Pixel has filled this sequel with charm and creativity and crafted one of the best 2D platformers ever made, three decades into the genre’s life.
To say that gameplay is unchanged from the first game would usually be a complaint, but in this case it’s good that Twisted Pixel hasn’t tried to go all crazy with new control mechanics. It’s as pleasingly simple to grasp as before; you move the analogue stick to guide the leading lady while hitting the ‘A’ button to make her explode.
She can ‘Splode’ three times–each one giving her a jump-like boost – without having to touch the ground to recharge. This triple-jump mechanic paves the way for all manner of mid-air, multi-jump, wall bouncing, barrel-exploding obstacles that range from the tough to the kick-your-TV insane.
So it’s essentially more of the same, and yet it manages to be a vast improvement over the first game thanks to truly stunning level design that’s as creative and satisfying as it is tough. You grind along rails, flick between moving walls, explode off combustible barrels that send you flying hundreds of feet through the air, bounce off a trampoline, and shoot yourself from a cannon into the face of a giant boss–all without touching the floor once.
This intense pace kicks off from the very first level when a giant mech punches through the wall behind you and chases you through the stage before you kick his ass and he activates a self destruct sequence in a cutscene that parodies Predator. “What the hell are you?”
These comical parodies of music and movies from the past two decades show up every few seconds as Ms. Splosion Man chirpily bounds through levels with feminine finesse while singing “I ain’t no holla back girrrrl” and performing the dance from Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’ video when you stop moving.
Spotting all the references is almost a second game in itself. ‘Oh, that scientist was humming the original theme tune to Dallas.’ ‘Dude, that’s a scene from Total Recall.’ ‘Oh, now she’s doing the Stanky Legg dance.’ Yes, Ms. Splosion Man does the ‘Stanky Legg’.
Speaking of alternative games, the multiplayer mode in Ms. Splosion Man lets you and up to three others splode through an entirely different campaign. The settings and obstacles are obviously familiar, but there are 50 new levels and a different ending earned from blasting through the multiplayer mode.
These levels are designed with multiplayer in mind, so rather than having four players fumbling over each other like the comparatively clumsy multiplayer mode in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, this game packs real co-op mechanics that has you ‘splode off each other to reach areas or switches that would be otherwise unreachable. This is how you do co-op platforming, Nintendo.
Ms. Splosion Man is like the modernization of traditional 2D platform design. For every Mario-like overworld map screen and shifting platform puzzle it recycles, it sprinkles in a dash of new-age ingenuity, with fast-paced and complex obstacles, comical scientist slaughter, and laugh-out-loud ‘90s pop culture references.
It can be frustrating when the window for success passes too fast for any normal human being to react effectively on their first encounter, resulting in a game full of trial and error. But nailing it–even after a dozen attempts–is satisfying enough to keep you hooked until the awesome ending sequence.
And if the difficulty does get the better of you the game eventually gives you the option to skip to the next checkpoint. But as a punishment Ms. Splosion Man will grow a fat ass and the game will play a hip-hop tune about your newfound heft. Hilarious.