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'Splosion Man (Xbox 360) artwork

'Splosion Man (Xbox 360) review

"In possibly the most massive scientific lab ever imagined, the scientist you control made an awesome discovery allowing him to detonate his own body regularly with no physical harm. Unfortunately, there was a minor side effect, as the chap is now pretty frickin' insane; causing the other scientists to lock him away in solitary confinement."

In the days of my youth, it seemed like a good two-thirds of my gaming time was taken up by platformers. Mario, Mega Man, Sonic -- I was intimately familiar with them and a host of other characters, as I spent hours upon end working my way through their worlds.

But then.....platformers suddenly ceased to be a big part of my life. My desires shifted to the vast worlds of role-playing games and the in-your-face carnage of first-person shooters. Sure, I'd pick up a platformer here and there, but they had suddenly become diversions from whatever I currently was playing, instead of that main project I was going to dedicate however much time it took to not just beat, but to master.

'Splosion Man brought me back to those olden days for all the right reasons. A 360 Live Arcade game by Twisted Pixel, this game immediately charmed me with its quirkiness and didn't take much longer to get me completely addicted. It was crack in video game form -- with the added benefit of me NOT having to sell my system and TV to get more! I can't beat that!

The premise drew me in by being.....well, downright bizarre. In possibly the most massive scientific lab ever imagined, the scientist you control made an awesome discovery allowing him to detonate his own body regularly with no physical harm. Unfortunately, there was a minor side effect, as the chap is now pretty frickin' insane; causing the other scientists to lock him away in solitary confinement. Now, it's up to you to pick up the control and help your nutty protagonist get through 50 levels of explosion-based mayhem (with 50 more available in the multiplayer mode) in a mad dash for freedom.

To me, the best platformers are those where the designers keep things simple and focus their energies into making their simplistic engine addictive to the point players simply can't put down their controller. 'Splosion Man definitely succeeds in this, as your character can only do two things: run and explode. However, that ability to combust at will has so many uses, it feels like multiple powers.

By exploding, you can eliminate the lab's other scientists. Sure, they're pretty harmless as long as they're not, say, controlling a laser or ceiling-spike trap, but it's pure fun to watch them collapse as filets of meat are expelled from their bodies. Your innate power also is good for taking out robots (which are a bit more harmful than the cowardly scientists) and shattering various background objects for points.

But that's only the beginning. Exploding also is how you jump and bounce off walls. By combusting near various barrels, the resulting blast can catapult you either higher or all the way across a vast room. In short, for much of 'Splosion Man, the ability to blow yourself up is your main way of getting from Point A to Point B.

The catch is that you can only explode three times in succession before needing to take a quick break from the pleasures of spontaneous combustion. Coincidentally, I'm sure, the only way many attacks can kill you is if you're out of juice. If you can explode, you'll just have your power drained; if not, it's curtains for that life.

Far more hazardous than any enemy in 'Splosion Man is the terrain. Not only is this lab absolutely enormous, it's loaded with so many deathtraps that simply deciding to step out for a quick smoke has to literally be a life-or-death decision for most employees. Gigantic lakes of acid, huge beds of spikes, crushing devices, mounted lasers -- you name it, it likely will be used at some point to prevent your escape. Your ability to only explode three times without a break will force you to make the most out of each blast. If there is a chain of barrels you need to use to make it up to a distant ledge, you better not miss one or it's back to square one.

Or, assuming your fall winds up fatal, back to the last checkpoint. Fortunately, 'Splosion Man is generous with these. Whenever I found myself having to string together some well-timed explosions to go from one moving platform to another while crossing a spiky pit o' death, you can bet I was hoping there'd be a checkpoint waiting on the other side of that obstacle, even though death isn't that much of a setback. You get unlimited lives and, after dying so many times per level, you even get the option to skip ahead to the next. Of course, this path is called "Way of the Coward", leading one to believe Twisted Pixel isn't particularly keen on folks wimping out on the challenges they crafted with so much care.

I have next-to-no complaints about this game. Since I don't have a widescreen TV covering half my living room wall, I did find it a bit tricky to make out my character when the view zoomed way out on rare occasions, but I can make similar complaints about the size of the type on many of my 360 games to the point where I sound like an old crank who needs a better pair of bifocals. I just need to get a better TV.....

With 'Splosion Man, Twisted Pixel showed that you don't have to be a big-budget corporation to create awesome games that deserve to be considered an essential part of a gamer's 360 library. This is how a platformer should be, as the theme is whimsical, the action is intense and the learning curve is perfect. The first level has nothing that can harm you, but I initially was a bit challenged just because I needed to learn the game's physics to get the hang of controlling my dude in mid-explosion. A few levels later, I was effortlessly hitting three-explosion wall-hopping combos with ease.....and it's a damn good thing I was or I'd have been dead a thousand times due to all the deathtraps. That's when I knew I was hooked -- after many long years, I finally was playing something good enough to give me a case of platform fever.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 09, 2009)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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