To paraphrase the Geto Boys song popularized in the film Office Space, ‘Damn, it feels good to be a gamer.’ With a dialectical output of diversions that range from the multi-million efforts of Electronic Arts and Activision to the wild innovations of independent developers, console owners are enjoying a recreational renaissance. One of the recent high points from the indie world was Twisted Pixel’s The Maw, a title that seemed like a forgotten treasure from the Nintendo 64 era.
For a follow-up, the Austin-based team seems to have drawn inspiration from the 8 and 16-bit puzzle platformer. ‘Splosion Man splendidly combines the muted cerebral elements of the Wario Land series with the hyperkinetic action of Sonic the Hedgehog. The title brings us back to that celebrated period of squeezing in an additional level before bed, and waking to a set of calloused fingertips.
Comparable to its retro brethren, ‘Splosion Man’s narrative is told in swift transitions and conveyed through character animation. The fiery, energetic protagonist is constantly in motion, cycling through animation sets, even when the player is not moving him. The game’s responsive control mechanic hails to a time when split-second timing was a requisite for a competent player.
Each press of the face buttons allows ‘Splosion Man to combust, sending him hurling throw the air in the direction of the analog stick. Players are allowed to ignite the flaming orange character up to three consecutive times, each occurrence giving additional loft or distance to jumps. Sliding down walls or running along causes friction, allowing the hero to recharge his detonation ability. Without any new powers, the game throws a healthy amount of help and hindrances to test the player- from flames that allow for an instant ignition recharge to icy mists that denied combustion.
A majority of the game focuses on navigating to the exit of each underground stage, rather than on melee combat. Non-confrontational scientists mill around the levels, each of them may be ignored or humorously gibbed into a pile of luncheon meats. ‘Splosion’s only significant confrontations come in the shape of three lively boss battles, which offer a refreshing reprieve from exploration. Once players have exhausted the enjoyment for the single player campaign, there’s a four player cooperative mode that is playable either locally or online.
As first glance, ‘Splosion Man’s labyrinthine levels recall the simple level design of 16-bit title, albeit with a dynamic camera. Soon, the player will notice an astute attention to detail, from ‘Splosion’s glowing reflection, to the charcoaled remnants of the game’s healthy amount of collateral damage. Whereas many combustible-focused games have displayed a limited amount of volatility, the ‘Splosion player is rewarded with a constant barrage of flaming footstep, burn marks, and billowing smoke. The game’s soundtrack reiterates the verve of the title character, with its uncontrollably bouncy beats and rhythms.
Although the introductory stages of ‘Splosion Man orient the gamers to the fundamentals required in traversing a level, the game relentlessly confronts players with additional challenges. Before long, these tests may result in frustration for all those except for the most hardened platforming veterans. Elongated chasms requiring precision timing, recall the skills needed to surpass 8-bit classics like Ninja Gaiden and Bionic Commando. Those prone to fits of controller-throwing rage may wish to clear their games spaces of breakables, as their demeanor may mirror the disposition of the game’s lead character.
There’s little doubt why Microsoft place ‘Splosion Man in the leadoff position for their Summer of Arcade promotion. The title’s easily understood concept, along with its superb execution (and later- unforgiving difficulty) recalls some of the forsaken gems of Genesis/SNES era. Couple these assets with a gorgeous high-def delivery and you have a wholehearted recommendation for what will surely be one of the hottest hits of Summer.