The sweetest victories are often the hardest won. Such is the case with Ms. 'Splosion Man. This 2D platformer's diabolical levels challenge you at almost every step of your journey. But that difficulty makes your victories all the more rewarding, and the terrific level design and the joy of success motivate you to overcome each obstacle you face just to see what deadly trap awaits you after the next checkpoint. On occasion, you may find yourself in situations that seem almost insurmountable, but the titular protagonist is undaunted by such circumstances. And if you keep at it, you repeatedly experience the satisfaction that comes with discovering that there's nothing you can't accomplish with some hard work and a dash of girl power.
The nefarious scientists of the original 'Splosion Man have captured that game's combustible hero. As they celebrate their triumph with an ill-advised champagne party in the lab, a pretty bow lands in one of their contraptions, and Ms. 'Splosion Man is born. As her name implies, she takes a cue from the Ms. Pac-Man school of female character design; she looks a lot like 'Splosion Man, but she sports a touch of lipstick and a bow. This pink figure of pure, explosive energy immediately sets out to wreak havoc and rescue her male counterpart. Despite developer Twisted Pixel's tongue-in-cheek challenge to the Unreal Engine ("Your move, Unreal!") that plays when you fire up the game, Ms. 'Splosion Man isn't visually impressive, but it does have a cartoony charm. Ms. 'Splosion Man herself conveys tremendous bottled-up energy as she strides, dances and power walks her way through levels, and when she splodes, she does so in a pink cloud of light and hearts. At times, though, the visuals can get a bit too chaotic, and it can be easy to lose site of the heroine amidst all the explosions your splosions are causing.
Ms. 'Splosion Man eases you into its gameplay, with a few slow and easy early levels that give you a bit of time to get familiar with the mechanics of sploding. If you played 'Splosion Man, you'll immediately feel at home here. The act of sploding is the equivalent of jumping, and you can splode three times before you need to recharge, which you can do by landing on the ground, sliding down a wall for a few seconds, or sploding off of certain barrels and enemies. Sploding has the added benefit of causing wanton destruction as you lay waste to machines and vaporize those pesky scientists, and it's fun to leave devastation in your wake.
Despite your tremendous sploding power, though, you've got your work cut out for you as you make your way through these levels. The challenge ramps up fast, and it ramps up in a big way. Most levels are filled with diabolical traps and deadly situations from start to finish. Things happen fast in Ms. 'Splosion Man. You might find yourself speeding along rails one moment, sploding up a tower as a deadly electrical barrier pursues you the next, followed by a soaring flight through the air. The breakneck pace and the constant evolution of levels keep things thrilling. Successfully sploding your way through these environments takes skill and persistence. You will die, a lot. Most of the time, it will be your fault. You might screw up the timing of a splosion and fly right past that green barrel you needed to splode off of. Or you might not react quickly enough to the sight of that electrical barrier just up ahead on the rail you're gliding along.
On occasion, you might rightfully blame the game for your death as, for instance, you slam into a wall of spikes you couldn't possibly have known was there. But, your fault or not, each death is a learning experience, and in the treacherous levels of Ms. 'Splosion Man, knowledge is power. As you try and try again, the precise timing you might need to survive a section gets easier, and eventually, you succeed. It's this process of improvement--of overcoming challenges that at first seem almost unconquerable--that makes Ms. 'Splosion Man so rewarding. Regularly positioned checkpoints throughout each level ensure that you never have to replay long sections, and each time you reach one, it's an encouraging little victory that nudges you on toward the level's conclusion.
Once you reach that conclusion, you can catch your breath for an instant and head on to the next level, or you can replay the level you just finished and aim for a better time on the leaderboards. Replaying levels with the benefit of your hard-earned knowledge is a joy because your experience guides you through the gauntlet, and your improvement is apparent when you reach the end of the level in a fraction of the time it took you initially. To make replaying levels more competitive and to spur you on to better times, you can download ghosts of other players and race against them. And should you find yourself without the desire to attempt a certain challenging section for the umpteenth time, there's an option to skip any level after you've failed it a few times.
Ms. 'Splosion Man normally moves at a very fast pace, but puzzles occasionally bring the otherwise speedy action to a halt. These puzzles typically involve using switches to slide platforms into position, using heavy falling objects to launch you into the air, and so forth. Some of these are frustrating, particularly those in which you must use your splosions to send floaty power cores drifting through the air from one spot to another. The lack of precise control you have over the cores makes things feel a bit out of your hands in these scenarios. Still, some of the game's puzzles are clever, but they're not as fun as hurtling from one fiendishly challenging situation to another and another; thus, even the better ones feel like a lull in the otherwise intense action.
But such puzzles shine in Ms. 'Splosion Man's co-op campaign. This isn't a tacked-on multiplayer mode in which you make your way through the same levels with other players. It's an entirely different set of levels that require players to work together. By sploding off of each other, players can reach higher areas, and you often have to trigger switches and launch barrels with precise timing to keep each other alive. The kind of satisfaction that comes from overcoming these collaborative challenges is different from that offered by the single-player campaign, but it's every bit as sweet. These levels can be tackled by two-to-four players, who can play together locally, online, or both, which makes it easy to round up friends for some cooperative sploding.
Ms. 'Splosion Man herself is a chatterbox; a walking, talking collection of female-oriented pop culture references and stereotypes taken to satirical extremes. It's amusing at first to be reminded of terrible Spice Girls lyrics and classic movie lines, but you may eventually opt to turn down the volume on her voice in the options menu. Though the title character can be a bit obnoxious, Ms. 'Splosion Man is a funny game, with some clever use of songs at key moments and quick-time events in which every prompt reads "SPLODE!" There are also a bunch of hilarious unlockable videos (complete with ridiculous descriptions) and other extras to serve as rewards for your efforts.
This isn't just a great game; it's also an outstanding value. The single-player campaign is lengthy, and with hidden collectibles to find and leaderboard times to improve, it's rewarding to return to these levels again and again. When you toss in the separate, excellent multiplayer campaign, the sheer amount of great stuff you get for your 800 Microsoft points is pretty amazing. Whether you're a fan of the original game or you've never sploded before, you're sure to have a blast with Ms. 'Splosion Man.