The previous XBLA offering from Twisted Pixel, The Maw, was a benign pleasure. High on production values but low on challenge and depth, it was an agreeable diversion that lasted only a few hours. For this follow-up, it seems that the developer has taken the criticisms on board. At the risk of alerting the Oo-er Police, 'Splosion Man is both longer and harder than his gelatinous predecessor.
The hero this time is a gurning creature of plasma and fire, created for some unknown reason in a secret laboratory. Escaping from his cell, it's up to you to guide him to freedom using his solitary gift: exploding. Press any of the face buttons and 'Splosion Man 'splodes. This works as a jump, and also an attack. It's also how you interact with objects, such as the explosive barrels and grenades which can be used to enhance or modify your combustible exploits.
You have three explosions until 'Splosion Man's energy is depleted, shown by his transformation into a charred husk, and while he recharges almost instantly he can only do this when standing on solid ground. This means that long chains of wall jumps are impossible, and working around the limitation is the basis of many puzzles.
With its simple control and accessible "reach the exit" gameplay, the design owes more than a little to N+. You fling your fiery friend around the screen, ricocheting off walls and smashing through glass panels. You'll avoid hazards more than you tackle them head-on, and there are the obligatory switches to open doors and shut down defences. Robot sentries can be destroyed if you explode close to their weak spots, while the base's human occupants - a babbling collection of mad scientists - shriek and squawk in panic at your approach. Go boom-bang-a-bang nearby and they turn into steaks, sausages and other cuts of meat.
Much like The Maw, there's something inherently appealing about the goofy, playfully sadistic world Twisted Pixel has created, and the simple act of blamming yourself around the level elicits the kind of base gaming joy that so few games manage to capture. Everything looks and moves in hilarious fashion, not least the title character whose Muppet grin and manic gesticulating make him look like The Human Torch as redesigned by Tex Avery.
With 50 single-player levels it's a much more substantial undertaking than The Maw's two-hour romp, but as the game progresses the structure starts to feel a touch lumpy. Of the three broad chapters (a division that feels more than a little arbitrary) only the first really stretches the concept. Introducing myriad new ways to use your explosions to get around, it's an impressive opening set of 16 levels that sadly gives way to over 30 more that fail to maintain the pace. Rotating wheels with moving platforms, walls of spikes, pits of acid - there's wit in the way these clichés are used, but clichés they remain over the span of the game.