Ms. Splosion Man • Page 2

Kiss kiss bang bang.

Where the game deviates from its inspirations' utilitarian puzzles is the character and humour that's interlaced throughout. But this humour is scattershot. At times, the jokes tear through their targets. "Your move, Unreal," says one of the developers into the camera before stroking his facial hair during the "Beard" sting advertising the bespoke engine the team created for the game. Likewise, the tutorial movie, edited and filtered like an eighties company instructional video, is laugh-out-loud funny.

Meanwhile, there's a lot to smile at in the incidentals, from Ms. Splosion Man's ADHD animations - flitting with Tex Avery flair between flouncy walks to tip-toe runs - to the riotous voice acting. In motion, Ms. Splosion Man has all the exuberant, bursting-at-the-seams insanity of her brother/lover.

But other jokes prod at female clichés to elicit smirks. You collect shoes - because a woman can never own enough shoes, amirite? - spend your tokens in The Mall - because women can't get enough of shopping, amirite? - and climb into the body of a fat scientist called Mandy when you want protection from laser beams. If you fail a section of a level too many times you're asked if you want to "Cheat On The Game" - because all women are untrustworthy, lying bitches, amirite? (In the first game, skipping to the next checkpoint was known as the "Way of the Coward".)

The character calls out Spice Girl lyrics and demands to nobody in particular that they "put a ring on it", while one of the multiplayer modes (in which you control two Ms. Splosion Men using one controller) is called "Two Girls, One Controller". Sometimes it can feel a little too much like the developer has typed "girl references" into Google and peppered the game with the results. There's no particular point to the scattershot female theme, but then again, neither was there with Ms. Pac Man, and perhaps that's OK.

Less easy to forgive are some of the mechanical niggles that have carried over from the previous game. The difficulty curve is all over the place, and some mean-spirited checkpoint placement leads to Trials HD degrees of repetition. The testing levels in which you must grind and hop between a series of rails to avoid obstacles fast become memory tests, while some of the platforming lacks the absolute precision of, say, Super Meat Boy.

However, the few boss fights here are far better executed than in the first game, and the electrically charged areas in which you are given infinite explosions - but must carefully negotiate a maze of deadly electricity - neatly turn the core mechanic on its head: barrels must be avoided, lest they propel you to your death.

Despite the riotous presentation, Ms. Splosion Man has a restrained logic that is pleasing to feel out. With just one collectable in every level, the emphasis is on perfecting rather than exploring, which helps to maintain the game's breakneck pace as you delve deeper. As with the first game, the multiplayer is far more than just an after-thought, and can be enjoyed locally as well as over the internet.

As such, Twisted Pixel manages to embellish what is undoubtedly the studio's strongest property without spoiling it. Ms. 'Splosion Man may lack the impact of its predecessor and the taut focus of rival Super Meat Boy, but it nevertheless offers an explosive start to the summer season of Xbox Live Arcade releases, a game surprisingly freshened by lipstick and a bow.

7 /10

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About the author

Simon Parkin

Simon Parkin

Contributor

Simon Parkin is an award-winning writer and journalist from England, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, The Guardian and a variety of other publications.

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