Unlike Super Meat Boy, Ms. Splosion Man doesn’t deserve to be among the best platformers of the past few years.
What would a platformer look like if the main protagonist’s only means of interacting with the environments involved exploding over and over? That was the creative premise behind Splosion Man and to be honest, not that much has changed in this sequel. And explode you will. Not only this mechanic sets apart the indie game from its peers, but this is also a creative and entertaining. Maintaining an ebb and flow as you run from left to right, climbing places that seemed unreachable at first, sliding and causing exploding barrels to burst violently is eminently satisfying at first, but once you get used to the mechanics, Ms. Splosion Man reveals some frustrating camera angles, capricious controls and repetitive level design.
So to make progress, you need to detonate pretty much everything that surrounds you. Exploding different objects has different effects that you need to familiarize yourself with: scientists give you a jump boost, walls lets you bounce in the opposite way, there are also exploding barrels and launchers that propel you into the sky. If at any point the level gives you more that you can handle (or if you get stuck,) you can self-detonate and start from the nearest checkpoint. Soon enough, new elements come into play (including moving walls, whirling blades, boss fights and so on) and when a level forces you to think about all those elements at the same time, Ms. Splosion reveals a level of depth that makes it more challenging and satisfying.
It’s hard to play this fast-paced platformer and not compare it to Super Meat Boy (without a doubt, one of the best platformers of the past few years.) In comparison, Ms. Splosion Man feels remarkably slow and on some of the fast sequences, the controls feel sluggish and imprecise and this leads to some unfortunate deaths that will have you cursing like a sailor. Unlike Meat Boy, the fancy camera angles and capricious controls give the feeling that the game’s at fault when you die and that’s detrimental to this platforming experience.
I enjoyed playing new levels, since I never knew what I was going to encounter next. There are laboratories filled with evil scientists, but this time around levels are much more varied and colorful. On top of that, the game always maintains a strong sense of humor that permeates every aspect of the experience. The female protagonist quotes well-known pop songs (such as Hollaback Girl or Girls Just Want to Have Fun,) romantic films, other games and there’s a mini-game called “2 Girls, One Controller,” making reference to the infamous internet video that’s impossible to forget. Also, if you like the game’s unique sense of humor, make sure you stay until the credits roll, since there are a few surprises that I won’t ruin for you.
If levels become way too difficult, the game gives you the option of immediately jumping to the next checkpoint. During the latter portion of the game, I found myself abusing this option, not because I was having issues with the controls and the camera, but because I found some specific parts way too frustrating. This is definitely a serious problem, since the entire premise of the game is based on maintaining the ebb and flow and memorizing specific parts of the levels to then cruise through the level. But even when I knew what I was supposed to do, the controls refused to do what I wanted and to avoid this, I decided to skip some parts entirely after a few retries.
In the end, Ms. Splosion Man takes some of the best parts of its predecessor and uses them creatively. Unfortunately, the imprecise controls and punishing levels ruin what could have been a terrific experience and that’s unfortunate because of the rest of the game is really well-made. Unlike Super Meat Boy, Ms. Splosion Man doesn’t deserve to be among the best platformers of the past few years.