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Ms. 'Splosion Man review: Sweet science


People like to ask if video games can be art. I think I've come up with a better question: Can video games be science? Using specific and carefully arranged digital stimuli, is it possible to reliably reproduce the same result?

In the case of Ms. 'Splosion Man, I believe it is. The desired result, in this case, is fun.

Gallery: Ms. Splosion Man | 7 Photos

Ms. 'Splosion Man takes everything that was good about the original 'Splosion Man and manically runs with it. Like many platformers, the goal every level is simply to reach the end, triple-jumping past obstacles and solving puzzles along the way. The obstacles remain essentially the same – acid, spikes, blades, crushers, etc. – though the puzzle elements have been greatly expanded for 'Splosion Man's significant other.

The sheer number of additions to the (scientific) formula is dizzying. Moving platforms are back, as are the jump-boosting and enemy-blasting barrels. Added to the mix are rocket cars, zip lines, jet engines, cannons, trampolines and much more. One of my favorite new items is a background panel that instantly recharges Ms. 'Splosion Man's 'splosions.

These resplodinators (as I have charmingly named them) can fill entire rooms and are often suspended over acid and dotted with any number of death-inducers. Stop jumping, and Ms. 'Splosion Man will fall to her death. Jump too much, and she slams face first into an electric barrier.

Another great addition is a barrel that, when 'sploded, will send Ms. 'Splosion Man careening into the background. Combined with all the other devices, I often found myself guiding her over platforms, rocketing into the air, blasting into the background, dodging spike-laden crushers, leaping back into the foreground and – if I was lucky – getting my timing right to hit the final barrel that would send me to safety. If the puzzle sequences in the original 'Splosion Man resembled a demented ballet, then the later sequences in Ms. 'Splosion Man resemble a demented ballet precariously balanced atop another demented ballet.

It's this demented, but precise choreography that lends to the science of it all. The level design, while brutal, is meticulous and calculated, and the goal is always clear. Death, like a failed experiment, provides valuable data for the next run, allowing players to see the action that will cause the next reaction needed to progress.

One mistake in these carefully choreographed sequences, and it's instant death. Thankfully respawns are also instant. Fail too many times, and players are offered the opportunity to skip to the next checkpoint. Be warned, however, that doing so imparts a horrible curse (which I won't spoil here). Furthermore, the especially difficult levels, which are highlighted in red, are entirely optional.

All of these mechanics carry over into Ms 'Splosion Man's multiplayer mode. Multiplayer has an entirely separate campaign – and a separate ending – that requires both cooperation and precision timing. As in the original 'Splosion Man, placing your digital life in another player's hands is both nerve-racking and rewarding. Deliberately allowing your partner to die ... well, that has its own rewards too.

For those who despise the company of other humans, there's also "2 Girls 1, Controller" mode, which allows players to control two Ms. 'Splosion Men (Women?) with a single controller. It's about as difficult as it sounds – just watch the video above – though certainly intriguing for those who enjoy a challenge. And before you ask, it is possible to complete the entire multiplayer campaign in 2G1C mode – the feat was accomplished by the game's lead designer, Sean Riley.

Beyond the mechanics, the remainder of Ms. 'Splosion Man is likewise dripping with charm. From a Dr. Seussian vacation resort to a bristling Big Science city (complete with Jetsons hover cars), the levels are much more colorful and interesting this time around. Ms. 'Splosion Man herself also seems even more animated than 'Splosion Man, if that's possible.

One second, she's aping dance moves from Beyonce's "Single Ladies," then she's up on her tippy-toes like a ballerina. Next, she's doing "the Carlton dance" or gabbing on a cell phone. She's also much more talkative than 'Splosion Man, singing any number of girl-power pop ballads or quoting films – everything from "Like a Virgin" to "Nobody puts Baby in a corner."

It's true that her comments are mind-bogglingly single-faceted, but they're too over-the-top to be offensive. She is, in effect, the feminine opposite to 'Splosion Man's macho, meat-headed bravado.

It's very clear that Twisted Pixel put a lot of love into Ms. 'Splosion Man. It would have been easy to cobble together fifty new levels for the original 'Splosion Man, put a bow on his head and call it a day. Instead, however, Twisted Pixel went above and beyond to produce something better. Stuffed with new mechanics, meticulous level design and what I believe (with some confidence) to be the best ending of all time, Ms. 'Splosion Man excels over its predecessor in every way.

I await 'Splosion Man Jr. with bated breath.

This review is based on the final version of Ms. 'Splosion Man provided by Twisted Pixel. Ms. 'Splosion Man will be available for $10 on XBLA starting July 13.

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