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Ms. 'Splosion Man Review

Brad Gallaway's picture

Puttin' a Bow on it

Ms. 'Splosion Man Screenshot

HIGH Captures the insanity that made the first game so great.

LOW Checkpoints are generally too far apart.

WTF That's a "curse"? More like a blessing if you ask me...

Sequels, as common as they are, can often be difficult things. There's a fine line between the staleness of not changing a formula enough, and changing it so much that fans of the original material are put off. Finding a "#2" that hits things in the sweet spot between those outcomes is rare, but Twisted Pixel has done a fine job with Ms. 'Splosion Man.

This pinker, more feminine iteration of their 2009 hit is essentially identical to the original 'Splosion Man. In both, the main characters 'splode their way through platform-heavy levels, traverse rapid-fire deadly obstacles, and snuff out the occasional super-sized boss. However, pulling a simple repeat wouldn't be enough to justify a sequel. Thankfully, a wealth of new mechanics and tricks have been added that give Ms. 'Splosion Man her minty freshness.

New bits like infinite-'splode areas, slide rails and transport cannons litter each area and keep the title similar to its inspiration, yet different enough to warrant a playthrough from those who don't want a carbon-copy. It could be argued that certain segments lack the just-keep-moving reflexive flow that the first game had in spades, but that trade-off is what makes this sequel what it is. Newcomers unfamiliar with the first 'splode-filled installment will find a simple-to-understand yet difficult-to-master action/puzzler/platformer that's able to hold its own against just about anything else that will be released this summer.

In addition to the juicy single player campaign, there's also a co-op mode genuinely worth investigating thanks to tricky levels which demand a high degree of teamwork and designs built for multiple players from the ground up. As a person who appreciates a great co-op experience, I'm happy to report that Ms. 'Splosion Man's buddy mode is much richer than simply adding a second player to the solo segments.

While those positives are certainly enough to recommend the game, there were a few things in it that dampened my enthusiasm a bit.

Ms. 'Splosion Man Screenshot

The first was that there are points when the formerly-airtight controls felt just a hair off.  When trying to 'splode a barrel in freefall or when dropping down off a rail into the middle of a narrow electrified field, there were instances when I felt like the handling wasn't quite as flawless as it should be. These occasional hiccups would be unnoticeable in any other game, but when the margin of error is less than a fraction of a second, it gets noticed.

The second issue, and a more serious one, is that many of the checkpoints in difficult areas are too far apart. I can't quite decide whether Ms. 'Splosion Man is equal to or more difficult than its predecessor, but there are plenty of sections that will challenge the timing and dexterity of any player. Complicating things, it's often hard to keep an eye on the Ms. due to too much visual noise on-screen.

When death came (and it did, frequently) I often felt I was being asked to replay larger chunks than desired after a fail. It did not make me happy.  There are many "hard" games making players work for it these days, but the best ones (wisely) tune their checkpoints tighter than they are here. Unnecessary repetition in demanding areas makes frustration levels rise.

My final concern isn't quite as concrete as the ones I've just mentioned; instead, it depends on perception. While I was initially enamored with the psycho antics of the Ms. herself, as time went on, little alarms started going off in my head. I hesitate to say that the characterization here is sexist, but there are undertones that I'm not entirely fond of—stereotypically "female" things like using shoes as the super-valuable collectible item, or turning her fat as punishment for "cheating" on a level.  I was still able to enjoy the game for what it offers, but i think Twisted Pixel is capable of better characterization than the lowest-hanging fruit they chose here.

Those concerns aside, there's no doubt that Twisted Pixel has again displayed the sort of  kinetic design and creativity that made them such a notable studio in the first place. The formula of play still holds much appeal, and there's a lot of game on tap for the now-lower-than-average price of 800 Microsoft points. Ms. 'Splosion Man may not be a perfect sequel, but it has little trouble justifying a return trip to the lab that spawned 'sploding in the first place. Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed (Not yet, anyway—still playing.) 3 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains cartoon violence, drug references, mild lyrics and suggestive themes. Although the art style of this game makes it seem like a great fit for kids, it's actually quite difficult and will likely put young ones off with its gameplay. That said, the content here is pretty bloodless and not graphic, so it's reasonably safe—those warnings from the ESRB are mostly due to the song lyrics babbled by the main character, I suspect.  However, be aware that there are a few areas where the main character uses a fat scientist as a "meat shield" against mounted machine guns, and blowing up human enemies is possible. (It just turns them into skeletons, steaks and chops, though.)

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You will have no problems at all. There's no dialogue in the game apart from the character's random sound bite babble, and everything vital to play is displayed on-screen. There are no significant audio cues. Download it and have no fear, it's totally accessible.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360  
Developer(s): Twisted Pixel  
Series: 'Splosion Man  
Genre(s): Arcade  
ESRB Rating: Teen (13+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  
Topic(s): Gender Roles  

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Hey Brad, a few things...

Well-written review, although I disagree with most of your complaints.

Even as someone largely intolerant of repeating content, I never found Ms. 'Splosion Man to be too offensive in that respect. The most I ever lost was around 2-3 minutes at most. Compared to the 20-30 minutes chunks that can get lost in RPGs with far apart save points, or the long drives that must be repeated after a death in the GTA games, Ms. 'Splosion Man's retreading bothered me very little, and it doesn't hurt that there's no loading between deaths. I hate repeating content, but being bothered by repeating mostly 30 second chunks of gameplay is a little ridiculous, especially for game based entirely around challenging platforming sections.

I've seen many reviewers argue that distanced save points shouldn't be part of a game's challenge. While there's certainly many more important aspects to making a challenge fair and balanced, it's not unreasonable to force players to do sections in one go. Many games over-do this, such as Lost Planet, but I don't think M'SM is one of them.

As for the sexism... to me, there is none. What would be Twisted Pixels motivations for doing this be? Either you're suggesting that TP thinks all women are like this, or that all women should be like this. We can rule out the first one, since anyone currently living on Earth knows that's not the case. As for the second option, I don't see anything that indicates Ms. 'Splosion Man is supposed to be any sort of a role model. There's nothing inherently wrong with a woman liking shoes and not wanting to be fat, and unless these things have any actual motive or repercussion, there's no issue to me.

Also, and this goes without saying, Ms. 'Splosion Man isn't even human. She's a psychotic cartoon character. Her liking shoes is no worse than Bart Simpson liking skateboarding because he's a boy. I don't know, perhaps I don't have the mentality for finding things like this offensive, but I really don't think there was any act that was either mean-spirited or ignorant made by the folks at Twisted Pixel.

Other than those things, I agree with your review 100%.

Disclosures: I'm currently on the third world of the singleplayer, and the second world of the multiplayer.

Kind of agree...

Quote:

While I was initially enamored with the psycho antics of the Ms. herself, as time went on, little alarms started going off in my head. I hesitate to say that the characterization here is sexist, but there are undertones that I'm not entirely fond of—stereotypically "female" things like using shoes as the super-valuable collectible item, or turning her fat as punishment for "cheating" on a level. I was still able to enjoy the game for what it offers, but i think Twisted Pixel is capable of better characterization than the lowest-hanging fruit they chose here.

Just recently played through 'Splosion Man this year and loved it. Have yet to play the sequel (probably won't 'til it goes on sale) but enjoyed the review. Even though I have yet to play Ms. 'Splosion Man, I can understand what you mean about the game possibly being sexist.

Having enjoyed 'Splosion Man, I decided to check out the Comic Jumper demo. I wanted to enjoy the game, because the short bit I played had some great gameplay. However, something just didn't sit right with the portrayal of the Brad-bots (I think that's what the female robots were called?). While I could see some attempts at satire, I'm not sure it was tastefully done, nor correctly put forth. Long story short, I didn't buy the full game.

So, having read your review, I can honestly see why this could be a problem. Hopefully this wasn't intentional, because these types of things really hurt the perception of videogames being a hobby of socially awkward, immature teenage boys.

Hey Decabo. Thanks for the

Hey Decabo.

Thanks for the comments.

>>Even as someone largely intolerant of repeating content, I never found Ms. 'Splosion Man to be too offensive in that respect. The most I ever lost was around 2-3 minutes at most.

We've all got our personal preferences, but after playing difficult games like Trials HD and Super Meat Boy and seeing how perfectly their checkpoints are tuned in proportion to the level of challenge, I can't help but feel that MSM’s are just a little too chunky.

>>As for the sexism... to me, there is none. What would be Twisted Pixels motivations for doing this be? Either you're suggesting that TP thinks all women are like this, or that all women should be like this.

Not necessarily. It could be nothing, it could be lazy characterization, or it could be an indicator that the people who are behind the characterization at TP have a little too much ‘Bro’ in the watercooler and need to be a little more sensitive to how their products are perceived.

>>I don't see anything that indicates Ms. 'Splosion Man is supposed to be any sort of a role model. There's nothing inherently wrong with a woman liking shoes and not wanting to be fat, and unless these things have any actual motive or repercussion, there's no issue to me.

Like I said in the review, it definitely is a perception issue. It wasn't blatant enough for me to call it out on a more concrete level, but I was just being honest in saying that I started getting a little bit of a funny feeling from the different tropes that the character touches on.

In this day and age, people who create content have to be very aware of how their work can be seen and the possible repercussions of that. I spoke to some female gameplayers and at least half of the ones I spoke with said that they did take offense to the character. Between my personal feelings and that many girl gamers expressing distaste, it seems to me that there's definitely something a little off-kilter. I didn't find the first ‘Splosion Man stereotypically male, yet MSM falls squarely into a number of female-oriented stereotypes, so it did make me wonder.

One final thing like to add is that while it can be said that MSM is just a character, or just one particular character, or a fictional character, how would the game have been perceived if the main character was of a particular ethnicity or race? What if the main character was Mr. Jewish ‘Splosion Man and collected gold dollar signs, or as one person on Twitter commented, what about Mr. Gay ‘Splosion Man collecting interior design catalogs?

The argument could be made that any such character would not be representative of an entire group of people, yet I have a feeling that quite a few people would find such designs to be quite offensive, and the same holds true here for those who are sensitive to how females are portrayed.

With all that said, don't get me wrong here... I'm not trying to condemn the game or the people behind it. I've met the developers at Twisted Pixel in real life several times, and they are good people. However, as a critic and as someone sensitive to such issues, I felt like there was enough of concern for me to at least voice the possibility that the work here deserves a closer look. Doing a quick scan through Google, it seems that there are others who have the same feelings… At this point, I see it as something to think about.

(FYI, I also put in a request for comment from Twisted Pixel, so hopefully they’ll respond.)

Hey Brad, thanks for

Hey Brad, thanks for responding.

Even though I think 2-3 minutes is a fair distance between checkpoints, I'm going to focus on the sexism issue.

>>In this day and age, people who create content have to be very aware of how their work can be seen and the possible repercussions of that. I spoke to some female gameplayers and at least half of the ones I spoke with said that they did take offense to the character. Between my personal feelings and that many girl gamers expressing distaste, it seems to me that there's definitely something a little off-kilter. I didn't find the first ‘Splosion Man stereotypically male, yet MSM falls squarely into a number of female-oriented stereotypes, so it did make me wonder.

Being respectful and thoughtful is important, but I do think there's a point where you have to stop trying to protect the feelings of those who can't laugh at things like this. As I said, I don't deny that the stereotypes are there. To me, it's just an issue of finding out why it matters. It's really just something I'm unable to wrap my head around, that full-grown adults can't look at this cartoon and think, "Oh, that female creature likes shoes and doesn't want to be fat. Yeah, a lot of women like shoes. Whatever."If people take offense without a reasonable cause, I can't pity them all that much.

>>The argument could be made that any such [Jewish/Gay] character would not be representative of an entire group of people, yet I have a feeling that quite a few people would find such designs to be quite offensive, and the same holds true here for those who are sensitive to how females are portrayed.

A Jewish character collecting money would be reaffirming the stereotype that Jews are money-obsessed. Something like that has a genuine motive of portraying Jews as heartless and greedy. A gay character searching for interior decorating catalogs represents the portrayal of gay men as feminine and un-manly, a blatant attack on that entire sexuality.

For Ms. 'Splosion Man... you're collecting shoes. While that is a stereotype, it's at a point where I'm forced to ask "So what?" A lot of women like shoes. The perception of women is not at stake here. If MSM spent the entire game in a kitchen, while SM was out doing all the hard work, I could totally see the intent of women being shown as only being worthy of serving a man. But if the extent of the stereotype is to say women like shoes, it reaches a point that open-minded people just need to laugh it off.

>>With all that said, don't get me wrong here... I'm not trying to condemn the game or the people behind it. I've met the developers at Twisted Pixel in real life several times, and they are good people. However, as a critic and as someone sensitive to such issues, I felt like there was enough of concern for me to at least voice the possibility that the work here deserves a closer look. Doing a quick scan through Google, it seems that there are others who have the same feelings… At this point, I see it as something to think about.

I'm forced to ask, what exactly did this Google search entail? If you searched "Ms. 'Splosion Man sexist," I'm not surprised you got some hits. If you scan other reviews and just the general talk of the game, sexism isn't close to being at the forefront of people's minds like it was for Other M. I see no motive or malice in MSM, nor do I think TP is being too "Bro."

The bottom line:

To me, the best step the people of the world can take towards tolerance is learning to laugh at themselves. Getting up in arms over every little irrelevant stereotyping (Such as a cartoon female liking shoes) only serves to distance people and reinforce that intolerance of anything that can hurt anyone's feelings. Getting offended by something this meaningless... I'll just have to accept it as something I'll never understand.

But here's a question for you: what would be the male equivalent of MSM's shoes? Maybe that'll help me get that perspective.

>>(FYI, I also put in a request for comment from Twisted Pixel, so hopefully they’ll respond.)

...really? It's depressing that after releasing one of the best values on XBLA, THIS is what they have to talk about.

Hey Decabo. Sounds like

Hey Decabo.

Sounds like we’re on opposite sides of the issue, or at least, you’re not getting the same sorts of ‘off’ vibes from it that I am.

Nothing wrong with that at all. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything and like I said earlier, I’m not trying to tear down Twisted Pixel. If the game seems fine to you, then there’s no issue from your perspective and I don’t really have an interest in fighting a fight that I’m not entirely sure is there.

For me, it was questionable and felt like I should share.

Also, another factor in play is that their last game, Comic Jumper, took heat from people for being in poor taste when it came to female characterizations, so it casts a bit of a shadow on MSM as their next effort.

>>But here's a question for you: what would be the male equivalent of MSM's shoes? Maybe that'll help me get that perspective.

It’s hard to say since I don’t generally see ‘males’ as a group being stereotyped without breaking them down into smaller sub-groups – sports junkies, rednecks, ethnicities, etc. Each group has their own stereotypes.

>>(FYI, I also put in a request for comment from Twisted Pixel, so hopefully they’ll respond.)
>>...really? It's depressing that after releasing one of the best values on XBLA, THIS is what they have to talk about.

Depressing to you maybe, but there are others out there (like me) who wished they’d done a little better. If nothing else, there’s an opportunity here for a dissenting second opinion!

Hey Brad,

I wouldn't say we're on "opposite sides of the issue." I fully acknowledge the existence of these stereotypes. Our disagreement just stems from how seriously should something like this be taken.

I can't comment much on Comic Jumper since I haven't played it, but after a quick search of Google, it sounds like it made some jokes about women staying in the kitchen. This is something I can actually understand as being offensive, since it calls back to the oppression women dealt with in the past. I wouldn't say it's sexist, but I get why people would feel insulted.

Come to think of it, wasn't Leliana from Dragon Age obsessed with shoes? How is this different?

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