Version tested: Xbox 360
It's a good joke that has remained unvisited for 30 years. Take a character whose gender is defined in his name and turn a him into a her by adding Ms. in front of it. Slip on a colourful bow and slap on some lipstick and the transformation is complete, a neat recycling of assets that's both economical and absurd.
It worked for Midway with Ms. Pac-Man in 1981, and it works for Twisted Pixel three decades later with a pink-skinned, restless, female counterpart to 2009's original 'Splosion Man.
Ms. Splosion Man has lost none of her elder sibling's jitteriness, muttering teenage girl slogans to herself ("I must I must increase my bust") before bursting into snatches of pop song lyrics, carrying on the incessant chatter irrespective of player input. A vivacious ball of energy, Ms. Splosion Man sprints along a tightrope between endearing and irritating, demonstrating Twisted Pixel's firm handle on a character born of scientific accident - one who's supposed to make you feel both sympathy and fear.
In terms of feel, Ms. Splosion Man comes across like an asset-swap. This is a hyperactive 2.5D platform-puzzler that bears many of the traits and tricks of its predecessor, the aim always to reach the exit as quickly as possible. In contrast to the exuberant character design, the controls are wonderfully restrained.
Ms. 'Splosion Man can trigger three explosions in the air before she must momentarily recharge on the ground. Explosion jumps can also be restocked on walls and other surfaces, while moving her into proximity of a bar heater or crackling bolt of lightening will also replenish her stock of jumps.
The economy of the controls is thanks to the fact that a jump is also a detonation, granting the move the offensive properties to take out security cameras or any scientists caught in the blast. Explode near a human and they'll disintegrate into cartoonish cuts of meat, but without a ranged offensive attack you need to get in close for the kill. The volatile properties of Ms. Splosion Man's jumps are used further by the strategically placed explosive barrels, which act like bumpers on a pinball machine, propelling the character at breakneck speed.
For this sequel the developer has introduced a number of new ideas to go along with the closing walls and the key/switch puzzles that defined the first game. Ms. Splosion Man can grind along rails, an idea used to create a series of high-speed chases in which you must switch from power line to power line, avoiding obstacles and flinging yourself toward barrels that give you further propulsion towards safety. Indeed, the game has more of a precision platforming bent as it frequently breaks the confines of the science lab, requiring you to carefully jump between hover cars or risk falling to your death.
Likewise, climb into one of the Donkey Kong-style cannons and it will fire you across the level. These come in a few different varieties: some automatically aim and fire you towards a target, others spin, yet more must be aimed by hand. There is no visual distinction between the three types, which can lead to frustration when trying to make split-second decisions on when to hit the release button, but in general the idea adds welcome variety to an already rich high-speed puzzle game.
Ms. Splosion Man fits into the growing tradition of score-attack platform puzzlers such as N+ and, more recently, Super Meat Boy. Each stage is played for score (and now, with a hub from which you select levels, the structure is more inviting to repeat play), there are competitive leaderboards and it's even possible to download and race against top players' ghosts, useful for seeing how to get past any particular puzzle that has you stumped.