Ms. Sposion Man
When I try to picture videogame development, I often think of an endless sea of poorly lit cubicles filled with overworked (but dedicated) programmers and artists who yearn for nothing more than a visible horizon for their work. For the folks at Twisted Pixel, I think it's more like a little kid's birthday party distilled into concept art and basic gameplay ideas before being completely covered in that luminescent goop used to fill glow sticks. Let it be known that I have little actual clue as to what a legitimate game design process entails, but with Twisted Pixel's blasting their jolly japes all over their lineup of downloadable titles, you can at least be sure these guys had a ton of fun making their games. Their gamble is whether or not you'll have fun playing any of them.
Ms. Spolsion Man is the hilariously titled sequel to 2009's Summer of Arcade platformer, 'Splosion Man. The how and why aren't important (honestly, virtually any reason one could conjure would feel appropriate), but the basics remain the same; the Ms. can jump splode up to three times in a row. Once her splode runs out she will require a few moments to charge back up before being able to splode again. Like its predecessor, most of the game functions as a 2D platformer where one has to get all the way to the end of a level.
Doesn't sound much different, does it? While the very simplistic input is unchanged, the trials and tribulations ahead diverge from the challenges found in 'Splosion Man. For one, Ms. Splosion Man comes out swinging. Hard. The original was no slouch in the difficulty department, but at least it had some sort of half bell curve toward a climax. Ms. Splosion Man starts out seemingly impossible and somehow manages to escalate itself before you're ever comfortable. That might be a turn off for some, but as a veteran of the original and with a 102% completion of Super Meat Boy under my belt, I was sploding in my pants at the rough road ahead.
Ms. Splosion Man's brand of platforming, however, can rarely be conquered through intuition and vague preparation. More often than not you're going to get killed and killed and killed and killed until you perfect the timing necessary for the way forward. There's a cornucopia of concepts and ideas buried in the game's fifty-plus levels, but as a sampler; you won't know you need to conserve a splode for a free fall, or be aware of direction from a zip line-to-zip line jump in between the two electricity gates, or whether or not the hovercraft you're riding will explode in 1/4 a second or 1/2 a second, or when exactly you're supposed to sacrifice the poor chap in the wheelchair. Baring a few exceptions Ms. Splosion Man did seem to be a bit more generous with her checkpoints, but it's still trial-and-error by way of perfected input. Is this fun? I thought it was, albeit I was under the mindset that no matter how many times I would fail I knew that eventually I would make it by a varying proportion of luck or skill. Your mileage may vary, but I would err on the side of legitimate amusement.
And if you can't make it, there's always tank ass. If you'd like to skip to the next checkpoint you're free to open the menu and select an option titled "cheat on game" (as if the challenge within is some sort lover ripe for jilting). In 'Spolsion Man, doing this granted the character an emasculating tutu, but Ms. trades that in for an increasingly expanding set of thighs. It also replaces the level's music with an incredibly catchy tune Ba 'Donk a Donk tune. That, coupled with a main character seemingly obsessed with demonstrating virtually every negative teen-girl stereotype imaginable could sour the experience for overly sensitive or female players (as I found out when I tried to coerce my girlfriend into co-op). Other than that, yeah, it's pretty damn funny. Non-sequiter references to 80's action films, hilarious and subtle body language, bits of lyrics from three decades worth of female pop acts, and Ms. Splosion Man's genuine doe-eyed excitement after finding a pair of shoes (the lone collectable scattered across each level) make for a fun and fresh character. I had my fill halfway through the game, at which point I happily engaged the option of turning her mouth off.
While Ms. Splosion Man's brand of platforming has a solid foundation and enough gas to get through most of the game, it's not without its faults. Twisted Pixel's art department deserves praise for doing quite a lot with limited resources, but sometimes I got the feeling they overindulged in color, forgot about contrast, and added layer of unintentional difficulty. The tropical theme that covers the second world is very pretty and fairly divergent from the usual backdrops of laboratories and factories, but it also makes the player character incredibly hard to follow, culminating in the nightmare that is that particular world's boss. The intended challenge is appropriately hard, but controller-throwing madness spawned from not being able to see where you are is indefensible.
The single player levels took around eight hours to complete, but that number can drop down by skipping through levels or sidestepping a few on the Mario-like world map - but that's all only half the game. Ms. Spolsion Man arrives with a unique co-op campaign for you and a friend. You also have the option of unlocking the "Two Girls One Controller" mode, which binds control of both girls to each analog stick. It's near impossible to coordinate for those of us who aren't mentats and it sort of feels like an idea Twisted Pixel had while spit balling "wouldn't it be funny if..." concepts, but damn I am I glad it found a place in the game. It's refreshing in an era where we're used to seeing that sort of content nickel and dimed as DLC.
Ms. Splosion Man is a bit too erratic to gather much notice on any year-end top ten list, but a few of its moments are of the utmost brilliance. The last boss in particular is a sequence that offers a double sucker punch in both mechanics and context, as it diverges significantly from the game you're used to while simultaneously delivering one of the most hilarious and bizarre videogame sequences thus far on planet earth. Shortly afterwards the unsettling weirdness and general insanity is magnified through a live-action ending that's...uh...well, needs to be seen in order to be understood appreciated. I don't know if Twisted Pixel is secretly demonstrating their FMV prowess as an audition for sequels to Night Trap and/or Sewer Shark, but these ladies gentlemen can have my money for any such endeavors.
Ms. Splosion Man
Ms. Splosion Man is frequently good with equal parts brilliance and frustration. Sometimes you might get the feeling that the folks at Twisted Pixel had so much fun making their game they sort of forgot we common folk would wind up playing it, but it's hard to fault ambition. And that ending, oh my, that ending...