Puttin' a Bow on it
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.
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.
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.