Thursday, February 18, 2010

Splosion Man

One of my boys has made up a super hero, "Orange Fire Boy". I'm not exactly sure where he comes from or what his powers are, but I know he somewhat resembles the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four. So when I saw the game Splosion Man — whose starring character is also orange and covered in flames — become a "Deal of the Week" for a measly five bucks, I thought he might get a kick out of it, and so I picked it up.

Splosion Man is pretty easy to learn. You play a science experiment run amok, who is trying to escape the laboratory (and take revenge on the scientists who are responsible for his "condition"). Your only weapon is the ability to explode, which you do by pressing any of the four face buttons. (All four buttons are mapped to "SPLODE", but you can get a quick 10-point achievement for remapping any button to... um, well, "SPLODE" is the only option.) By exploding back and forth off of walls, Splosion Man can "climb" upward into new areas. Exploding next to barrels can give him a boost (sometimes slight, sometimes a high-speed launch). Exploding next to equipment causes lots of satisfying debris, and exploding scientists results in a comical fountain of steaks to erupt from their body (which just falls down, intact — hey, they're not trying to be disgusting or M-rated here).

Some of the levels can be a little challenging. Some don't give you time to stop and rest, you just have to keep running. But there's no limit on the number of times you can die and start over. (If you die a certain number of times, the game does give you the option to skip to the next level, although rumor has it there's a price for this.…)

But unfortunately, Splosion Man's strength is also its weakness. The mechanics are so simple, that there really are a limited number of ways you can use it to get through the lab. There are a lot of levels, around 50 in all, and although each one is different from the others, they all repeat a lot of the same elements over and over such that each new level brings very few surprises.

Depending on your target audience, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. My first-grade son loves it. It's something he can easily figure out and is on his way to mastering — which is saying a lot, because, honestly, he isn't nearly as skilled as his older brother. He also loved the gamer picture and the Avatar T-shirt with the orange fire guy logo. (Splosion Man was the first game to feature an "Avatar Award".) It was, as I hoped, right up his alley. And the spastic title character is something all my boys love watching.

For myself, I don't mind it at all. It's a fun little diversion with some quirky humor, and a decent platformer to boot. The levels aren't overly long, which means playing for short stretches is easy without losing progress. (Indeed, short stretches are almost required to avoid becoming bored with the repetition.) Probably my only major complaint (so far; only completed "World 1") is the boss battle. Whereas the levels leading up to it are replete with checkpoints, the boss battle had none. If you died (and there were plenty of "one-shot kills", to add to the frustration), you had to start the whole boss fight over, rather than starting at the last major "event".

I wouldn't say it's the best five bucks I've ever spent, but I've certainly done a lot worse.

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