Review: Ms. Splosion Man (iOS)

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With her glowing pink bodysuit, shocking neon-yellow bow and la-la-loud attitude, Ms. Splosion Man is the last person you’d expect to need a second chance to make a first impression. But that’s exactly what happened: When her, um, explosively funny side-scroller made the jump from Xbox Live Arcade to the App Store earlier this year, gamers rediscovered their love for her tightly designed airborne platform action, but hate-hate-hated the way the game forced us all to grind and regrind the early levels until we finally scored the uber-difficult fame achievements and earned enough coinage to purchase and open up the rest of the levels in the game’s three worlds.

Unlike Anthony Weiner/Carlos Danger, Twisted Pixel actually listened to the iPad-tapping public (and its own PR flaks), adjusting the in-app purchase curve so that the grinding has been reduced to a more tolerable minimum. It’s still there, though, and you’re still going to have to figure out how to complete some tricky levels without spending more than 15 seconds on the ground, but at least the formula finally feels a little more reasonable.

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The biggest sigh of relief here is that the controls aren’t a catastrophe. Those who shattered glass and exploded their share of cowering evil scientists with Ms. Splosion Man on XBLA know that executing the in-air boosts and complex off-the-wall bounces require a fairly high level of precision—the kind of precision touch-screen controls typically mangle. Not so, here: Touching the screen to ‘splode feels completely natural, and the directional-pad controls are also surprisingly smooth. It’s true that things get a little tricky when the action zooms out to show the entire level—sometimes our pink heroine gets so small she blends a little too much into those peach-colored walls, especially when the visual effects from a ‘splosion are thrown into the mix.

On its tight gameplay merits alone, Ms. Splosion Man ‘splodes to the top of most platform-game lists. What really puts it over the top is the console-level production values. Not only are the levels incredibly colorful and detailed, but the game’s sense of humor is hilarious. From the droll tutorial narrator to the fact that our silly Miss maintains a penchant for quoting the lyrics of ‘90s pop songs (seriously, where have all the cowboys gone?) this is a game that’ll make you smile and chuckle even as you’re blowing the timing on yet another off-the-wall puzzle jump sequence. Unless, of course, you find teen valley-speak grating.

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Some of the puzzles here seem to indicate that the scientists at Big Science Labs are sadistic Rube Goldbergs at heart. It’s one thing to have to spin a gear to lower a wall platform that’ll let you bounce-jump to a booster barrel where you can ‘splode where you need to go. It’s another when all of these pieces are moving simultaneously, and the slightest slip in timing means a reset. The game’s addiction to side-scrolling speed doles out frustration and exhilaration in equal measure, but that’s not surprising, given that we’re discussing the developers of The Gunstringer, another game that moved like a freight train and rarely let up. And hey, if that’s not enough pace for your taste, the iOS version of Ms. Splosion Man sports a set of single-use purchasable powerups that can make her ‘splode further, run faster, or slow everything down to nail difficult timing. Given that you’re probably saving your coins to unlock levels, it’s not like you’ll be buying and using them that often, but they do add a little extra oomph if and when you find yourself stuck.

And hey, there’s always the one that lets you skip a level. Given the IAP obstacles, that’s more than a little useful.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Hey! The controls actually work!
+ Colorful, detailed environments
+ Goofball sense of humor never lets up
+ Some of the most tightly designed platform action you’ll find

Cons:
– The grinding to earn coins to unlock levels has been reduced, but it’s still there
– Sometimes, our Pink heroine blends a little too neatly into the lab backgrounds

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on iPad, also available on iPhone, iPod Touch, Xbox Live Arcade, Steam and Windows Phone
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Twisted Pixel
Release Date: 3/28/2013 (Updated on 8/1/2013)
Genre: Platformer
Age Rating: 12+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by developer

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.