Ms. ‘Splosion Man Review

What do you get when you take one of the best XBLA games and add a pretty bow to it?

Erik Norrisby Erik Norris

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Developer Twisted Pixel has followed up their successful platformer ‘Splosion Man with the aptly named Ms. ‘Splosion Man.  In an homage to the relationship between Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, Twisted Pixel has revisited their intense puzzle game with new challenges, new upgrades, and lots of estrogen.  For those of you that enjoyed the first game you are in for a welcome new edition.

Right out of the gate, Ms. ‘Splosion Man plays just like it's precursor.  You're challenged with traversing a maze of platform levels to reach a finish line within a certain time limit.  If you don't arrive on time you are penalized, but you can still progress to the next level.  While the controls are identical to those of ‘Splosion Man, there are several new obstacles you'll need to utilize to progress. These new obstacles and tools add a nice variety to the gameplay.  You'll need to slide down electric zip lines, assume the flesh of a fat scientist, and bounce off trampolines if you'd like to unlock this game's deepest secrets. It’s fun having new elements thrown into the mix that not only ensure the gameplay stays fresh, but also doesn’t abandon what made the original game great.

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While the game starts nice and easy, it does not take long for the difficulty to ramp up.  Soon enough, Ms. ‘Splosion Man provides a major challenge to the patience of any gamer.  Like it's puzzle-platform brethren N+ and Super Meat Boy, Ms. ‘Splosion Man gets it's jollies by making you play through deathly puzzles multiple times.  In fact, for the more time-sensitive puzzles, you might get stuck attempting the same puzzle hundreds of times.  This game, and its developer, truly enjoys forcing the player to repeatedly mash his or her buttons until bruises form under the fingernail.  While I appreciate the challenge (and the ability to cheat past the harder sections), after a while I started to wonder why they made this game so difficult.  Was it to make us pissed off or was it to whittle gamers down to just an elite group of hardcore masochists willing to play through until the end?  I'd hope for the latter answer, but I'd bet on the former.

After a while, the challenge of Ms. ‘Splosion Man started to really get to me.  Not only was it tough, but I became increasingly frustrated by a weakness in the game's control scheme.  For my tastes, there is a responsiveness gap that keeps this game from controlling precisely.  There were multiple times where my avatar was spot-on for an explosion and the game was a bit too picky with it's hit boxes.  While I respect the challenge of the game, in some situations I think the player deserves a bit more benefit of the doubt.  In a game like this one, every millisecond counts!   

Another issue I have with the challenge of the game is that my desire to complete all of the levels fairly (without cheating) might mean that I don't get to attempt the latter levels.  Most platform games of the modern era are tough enough to challenge the gamer, but easy enough to ensure that he or she completes the story. Ms. ‘Splosion Man is far less concerned with that and more interested in making me curl up in a ball and cry.  It’s kind of a shame, but I guess that the difficulty is meant to separate the average players from the hardcore.

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For the first time, Twisted Pixel has brought multiplayer gameplay to one of their titles.  Gamers can team up on the same console or play online to traverse more puzzles with the requisite amount of explosions. This is a great new addition for hardcore players looking for a new challenge, as well as those of us too weak to make it through alone, but are willing to try a fresh feature to extend the longevity of the game.

Ms. ‘Splosion Man is a great but challenging experience that will both entertain and frustrate. There were definitely times when I wanted to launch my controller into the stratosphere out of frustration.  However, this never kept me from coming back and I think that’s a testament to what Twisted Pixel has crafted. This game is a must buy for fans of the first game and well worth a try by those of you curious enough to see if you have the patience and agility to 'splode the day!