Review: 'Splosion Man

Blowing up Xbox Live Arcade
By MITCH KRPATA  |  August 11, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

DON’T EXPECT TO BE CODDLED: You will die here — and often.

’Splosion Man | for Xbox Live Arcade | Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older | Developed by Twisted Pixel | Published by Microsoft
Independent games have always been available for those who cared to look for them. Recently, they've been handed the spotlight, thanks to the ease and convenience — not to mention the revenue potential — of downloadable console games. All three console makers have thrown their weight behind digital delivery, each with success. Perhaps no platform has more consistently delivered solid indie titles than the Xbox 360, whose Live Arcade now offers hundreds of selections, from high-definition updates of the classics to forward-thinking boutique games.

One of this summer's flagship Live Arcade titles, 'Splosion Man, sits right on the dividing line between the two styles. As a two-dimensional platformer with a simplified control scheme, it skips neatly past about 15 years of increasingly convoluted game design. But its elegance also makes room for a devious sense of humor, and some quirks that likely would have been focus-grouped right out of a more mainstream title.

To be sure, the influences from older games can be found all over 'Splosion Man. Each side-scrolling level is a series of traps, puzzles, and hazards assembled from familiar parts. You've got your pits of acid, your floating platforms, your auto-tracking turret guns. The main difference is that the title character, a manic, shrieking dude who seems to be made out of glowing charcoals, can do only one thing: explode. (Or " 'splode," in the game's parlance, but that's the last time I'll be repeating it!) Exploding makes your character jump, but it also trips switches and defeats enemies. 'Splosion Man can explode three times in quick succession; then he has to recharge.

Picking up and playing the game is simple. Every button on the gamepad has the same function: making your character explode. (Well, except for a not-so-secret "suicide" function mapped to the right trigger.) 'Splosion Man has a small repertoire of special moves, such as bouncing between two walls to gain altitude, but his most important locomotive aid is the exploding barrel. (For once, this is a video game where it makes sense that such things are littered all over the place.) Exploding next to a barrel will propel 'Splosion Man to great heights, or rocket him forward.

Where 'Splosion Man is at its best is in sustained sequences of movement. Getting into the groove means tearing through levels, smoothly performing one stunt after another, skipping across platforms, and soaring from one booming barrel to the next. When the game is on, it's reminiscent of the early Sonic the Hedgehog games — you know, before they got terrible. Occasionally it's necessary to stop and figure out switch-flipping puzzles; that makes for a nice change of pace, but it's also rewarding to go back and try again for a faster time.

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  Topics: Videogames , Sonic the Hedgehog, 'Splosion Man, 'Splosion Man,  More more >
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