We are getting close to the end. And as the years pass by, here comes the first download-only game in the list. Took a while, didn’t it? At least we got there with one of the most inventive and crazy titles of the last generation of consoles. I mean, there have been a lot of crazies, but Splosion Man was a whole new level of crazy. The sequel was even crazier, but I have a soft spot for the first one.
Back in 2008-2009, Microsoft was on fire. The success of the Xbox 360 didn’t just open the gates for many third party developers, but it also spurred many indipendent developers to jump from PC to console, thanks to their Live Arcade channel which offered relatively good visibility and almost zero costs compared to retail, at a time when Steam was still little more than a portal for Valve’s own games, and wasn’t known for its ridiculous seasonal sales yet. Splosion Man was also one of the titles highlighted during the Summer of Arcade 2009 (together with other heavyweights Limbo and Trials HD, making it the biggest year for the service), giving it further attention. Good thing too, since it put Twisted Pixel on the radar and gave people a good dose of fun for quite cheap.
Its downloadable roots are pretty obvious. The game is no looker, though it’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye and looks at least better than many XBLA games before it. The soundtrack is funny and interesting, but no real award winner or anything. Except for the ending song. That video is amazing. But anyway, what really made Splosion Man was the design. With no jump or shoot button to speak of, you literally only get a “splode” button – in fact, any button on the joypad other than the analog sticks is a splode button! It does exactly what you expect it to do.
And while exploding works as a jump and attack button all at once, the real breakthrough is in the way it interacts with the enviroment. Exploding at the right time and right place will give you more or bigger explosions, eventually turning the game into a sort of platformer version of pinball. It is really frantic. The stages will get progressively harder, although it’s never really frustrating, except for the lack of skippable cutscenes (the sequel fixes this). Getting all the collectible cakes will require a bit of exercise though. And if you want to get through the levels in no-death mode, even more!
The arrival of Braid effectively opened the gates for expensive old-school platformers with a moral on XBLA. We have seen quite a few of them, and in 2009, Limbo also proved that you could do a great game with just puzzles, jump physics and atmosphere, rather than actual platforming. Twisted Pixel probably attempted a mix of the two approaches, while assuming that “atmosphere” doesn’t have to mean it must make people think. Splosion Man is like candy, and it will stimulate your brain in different ways.
Playing today: the game is exclusive to XBLA. No two ways about it. There was a retail disc which included also Limbo and Trials HD, but you’ll still need a 360 to play it. And in fact, with backward compatibility coming to the Xbox One soon, getting the digital game will probably be a better idea to ensure it will work on the new console too. Should you be completely Xbox-less, do give the sequel a look: Ms. Splosion Man is available on both XBLA and Steam, and while the humor and level design is more hit and miss, it’s still an amazing game to behold.