I remember when the first 'Splosion Man came out a few years back. It looked kind of fun but I was worried that a game with only one button command ('splode) would be too repetitive or boring. I was happy to see that Twisted Pixel succeeded in avoiding these pitfalls, so I was naturally quite excited to hear about a sequel being made. While those same worries of stagnancy persisted, I'm happy to say that Ms 'Splosion Man delivers with gusto, and is in pretty much every way a better game than its predecessor.
If you've played the original 'Splosion Man, you know the game only has two basic command inputs: move and 'splode. Ms 'Splosion Man is the exact same, except now we have more objects to interact with and much larger, more complicated levels to navigate. There are special walls that will recharge your 'splodes mid-air, grind rails, and enemies that give you boosts. There are more explosive barrels and touch sensitive platforms. And there's a much more robust enemy roster. What I'm trying to say is that there is a lot more to do, and this offers the developers a lot more wiggle room to stretch their creativity, and the game is much better for it.
As expected, the game starts out simple enough. You're 'splodin off walls, enjoying some simple platforming, and avoiding the occasional enemy. As the game progresses, however, you're slung into increasingly challenging and complex puzzles that will keep even the best players busy for a while. I don't want to use this term lightly, but this game is hard, perhaps not in the traditional sense due to the fact that you have unlimited lives and after dying enough you get the option to skip past parts that are giving you a particularly hard time. No, this game is hard because of the complexity of some of the puzzles, and the precision required to best them. By the end of the game I was doing puzzles that required perfect timing on dozens of obstacles in a row, and a single misstep would result in having to try again, from the start. While you do learn the levels and how to beat them, I found that some of the puzzles required literally dozens of attempts to master before I was able to successfully complete them.
To be honest, I found this remarkably refreshing. It's been a long time since I played a game that was this refreshingly challenging. In fact I'd argue that if it didn't grant you unlimited lives, this would easily be the most challenging game I've ever played. Yes, even harder than Contra, Ikaruga, and Battletoads. The only reason this game is beatable is because you have literally unlimited lives and the ability to skip parts you find to be particularly difficult. Add to that the fact that the game is long, and you have a lot of persistent difficulty that I don't imagine many would be able to complete without the gift of lives. I know I did some levels literally dozens of times and even then had to resort to skipping a few segments that I lost my patience with.
But I really can't praise the gameplay more. There are no elements of luck, just you figuring out exactly how to beat the level and executing it perfectly. If you died it was because you messed up. To add some delicious topping to the great controls and difficulty is the level design. I am rarely impressed with level design anymore, but some of these levels were brilliant and remarkably clever. It seemed that almost every level I came across had at least one section that had me rubbing my beard and nodding in approval, impressed at the creativity demonstrated.
As I mentioned, the game is also very long. The singleplayer campaign has 50 levels, and each level took me about 10 minutes to complete on average, some taking me as long as 20 minutes if I died a lot. That's about 8 hours of gameplay in the singleplayer mode alone, but there's also a co-op campaign that has 50 more levels completely unique to that mode, offering another 8-10 hours depending on how good your teammates are. That's 100 levels for a paltry 800 points, which is 10 bucks. I don't like to make absolute statements often, but I honestly cannot think of a better deal on a game with the plausible exception of games like The Elder Scrolls or Fallout. There's just so much to do for such a low price, and on top of all that there is a secret, hidden collectible in each level and there are online leaderboards/ghosts to compete against if you care enough to keep playing once you're done.
And this is where my praise has to come to an abrupt halt. While the gameplay is remarkably fun and the game delivers arguably the most value for your buck in recent memory, I had some pretty serious issues with the presentation that resulted in great frustration which I had to force myself to overcome.
First and foremost, the game is remarkably sexist. I don't mean it objectifies women or anything, but it's horribly stereotypical, taking every extreme female stereotype you could imagine and multiplying it. I admit the horrible valley-girl behaviour was hilarious at first, but that didn't last for long. Ms 'Splosion Man herself is just filled with girly pop culture references such as “if you love it put a ring on it”, “you had me at hello”, and “where have all the cowboys goooooone?!” If she's not quoting from hyper-feminine movies and music, she's literally talking on the phone about going to the mall, shopping, and drama. To make matters worse, the hidden collectible in each level is a pair of shoes and, when she gets them, she happily cries “oh my god, SHOES!” The whole game culminates in a final boss fight that is possibly the girliest thing you could imagine (I won't spoil it for you). A final boss fight which ranks amongst the worst and most annoying boss fights I've ever played. Hell, when you 'cheat on the game' by skipping to the next checkpoint, you were given 'the curse'; objectifying club music in the background and fat hips throughout the rest of the level.
The worst part is that all of this is remarkably persistent. I never actually took the time to tally how many times she said any particular quote, but in the first world alone I heard her sing “if you love it put a ring on it” over a hundred times. The voice acting is so repetitive and irritating that I honestly had to turn it off for fear of going insane. There was a point in my review playthrough where the voices got so obnoxious I had to use all of my willpower to not quit right then and there. In fact, most of my play sessions had to be cut short (usually only 15-20 minutes at a time) because I couldn't stand listening to her any longer than that and I hadn't yet figured out you could shut the voices off.
I also have to point out the game's music. While I do give credit to a studio willing to make original music for their games, I found every track to be really dull and obnoxious, especially the pause menu song about doughnuts. At least I think it's about doughnuts. I had to shut the music off not long after I shut the voices off, resulting in the entire final world being nothing but a cacophony of explosions and industrial sound effects. I want to add that the graphics were tolerable; not particularly annoying but nothing special either, so neutral I have nothing to say about them other than the fact they're virtually the same as the first game.
In the end I honestly did enjoy the game despite how obnoxious the voices and music were. I admit there were more than a few times I got frustrated with the difficulty of it all but to be honest I found it to be remarkably refreshing and exactly what the gaming industry needs: a game that is about the gameplay. I couldn't ask for more. Maybe they will do a sequel titled 'Splosion Man Jr, and they'll rid it of all the obnoxious quips. I know I'd buy it!