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Splosion Man 360 XBLA Review

03/09/2009 Specialist Tech Gamer Review
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Splosion Man 360 XBLA

Splosion Man 360



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Teen Gamer (360)

Here, all the ingredients of classic 2D platformers of my past are present. Although 'Splosion Man wants to be loved for its traditional high difficulty and exuberant art-style, I only felt irritation and frustration. Although I can see its technical merit and unique personality, it did nothing but grate on my nerves. However much I liked those old 2D games, some things should remain in the past and not in the present.

The 2D platform game has seen a revival in recent times with the Super Metroid-inspired Shadow Complex and other Xbox Live Arcade hits such as Braid and Castle Crashers. These games have all proved that the traditional platform style can work just as well as I remember, but also improving the old formula with a little more accessibility and some flashy new graphics.

'Splosion Man should fall into this same category with ease as it possesses simple controls and a ton of personality to liven up its gameplay. But I say should, because despite seeing its polish and technically sound mechanics I could only stomach playing it in very short bursts. Don't get me wrong, I love both classic and modern platformers, whether they're 2D or 3D in design, but where Braid packed a deep time-centric puzzle game into its gameplay, Splosion Man takes the route of ramping up difficulty to an arbitrary extreme.

There's nothing wrong with a difficult game, but the problem is that 'Splosion Man is so unforgivable with its puzzles. On many occasions in only the first world I would run through a level expecting to die several times, just so I could figure out how to get through the instant-death obstacle course the game threw at me. This is the unwelcome return of those classic platformers and I've got no problem in a game teaching me its route with an occasional death or two, but when that mechanic goes into overdrive at every turn it makes for a very punishing experience.

Whereas other games would stoically refuse to let you pass a difficult point, I was happy to see 'Splosion Man offer the chance to skip a level I was having trouble on. But it can't resist rubbing my nose in it by making my character wear a pink Tu-tu on the subsequent stage. Now I understand the titillation to doing this - to make the player feel a little bad for taking the 'cowards way out'. But really? A pink Tu-tu? It just came across as a childish way to poke fun at anyone not in possession of the ninja skills obviously required to get through the game.

There's nothing wrong with a difficult game, but the problem is that 'Splosion Man is so unforgivable with its puzzles.

That feels like a petty concern in the grand scheme of things but it leads into what really turned me off about the rest of the game - its personality. Twisted Pixel always like to fill their games with some entertaining and original stuff. Their previous game - The Maw - was a cute and funny 3D puzzle/platformer that I adored for its character and style. But 'Splosion Man managed to induce the very opposite reaction for me. The concept of a character who's just a walking explosion is pretty neat but making him act like a simpleton, spouting off bad 80's action-movie dialogue just never connected with me. It was funny at first but after several hours of the same dialogue and same retina-searing graphics it got under my skin in a surprisingly virulent way.

It's surprising because I feel 'Splosion Man does a wonderful job of evoking the classic platformer which I used to love. Intrigued, I booted up some of my older titles from my Amiga days and found I was getting that same irritated reaction. If I stripped back 'Splosion Man's art style and replaced its exploding mechanic for simple jumps, I got a similar game to that of Zool or Superfrog. Both excellent games for the Amiga at the time, but going back to them now only soured those memories thanks to the changes made in modern games like forgivable save systems and an interesting narrative.

Whereas other games would stoically refuse to let you pass a difficult point, I was happy to see 'Splosion Man offer the chance to skip a level I was having trouble on.

'Splosion Man keeps things very classic - its a very solid and traditional platformer with an individual personality and a different aerial mechanic that a lot of people I know on my friends list really like. But I feel like I've moved on from those Amiga days and the insane level of difficulty that many of those classic platformers had just isn't interesting any more. That same ancient method of utter punishment before reward runs through 'Splosion Man's later levels like a plague - with death presenting itself off every jump, turn, or movement with biblical glee.

Adverse reactions like this are rarely concentrated on a whole product as I can usually find merit in at least some aspect of a game. But 'Splosion Man has drawn out my utter contempt for certain old gameplay styles and mixed in a strong personality that does nothing but irritate. This is one of those rare games that I can't stand to look at, let alone play, for any period of time.

Written by Simon Arquette

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Simon Arquette writes the Tech Gamer column.

"Gaming technology and techniques fascinate me, always have and always will do. They've driven me to a gaming degree, and aspirations to a whole lot more. Here though, I'll be reviewing games for how they put their technology to work to deliver a compelling experience."

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