As you'd expect, Ms. Splosion Man is the direct sequel to Splosion Man. More than a little inspired by Ms. Pac-Man, Ms. Splosion Man has a bow, lipstick and she glows pink instead of Splosion Man's orange. As far as the plot goes, Ms. Splosion Man is a research project. After Splosion Man is kidnapped, she breaks free from the science lab to rescue him. There's not a lot of story here, and there doesn't need to be. It's a simple and silly game, and the goal is to play the levels and get a high score.
One of the most disappointing elements of Ms. Splosion Man is the humor. The original Splosion Man treated the main character like a Looney Toons character: He was silly, cartoonish and wacky. On the other hand, Ms. Splosion Man appears to have a single joke: "Female stereotypes sure are funny." Whether it's collecting shoes, fighting with other women over a man or randomly mumbling "OMG, let's go to the mall and go shopping," the majority of Ms. Splosion Man's "jokes" merely reference the fact that the protagonist is female. There are a few other jokes, but they're so few and far between as to be almost nonexistent. The original game had a lot more charm, and it was sadly missing from Ms. Splosion Man.
Although Ms. Splosion Man has less charm than its predecessor, the gameplay is universally a step up. For those who never played the original game, Ms. Splosion Man has the ability to explode up to three times. The explosions serve as jumps, attacks, your life bar and pretty much everything else. It's important to control when and where you explode. Exploding while on the ground launches you into the air, but if you explode next to a wall, you can launch yourself from it. Explode by an enemy, and you do damage to him. The challenge is in managing your explosions. Each of the three explosions is weaker than the previous one, and they only recharge under certain circumstances, such as standing on the ground for a few seconds.
While you don't get new abilities in Ms. Splosion Man, the game throws a lot of new objects at you, and each interacts with your explosions in a different way. Explosive barrels launch you higher into the air and refill your number of explosions. Red barrels launch at a predetermined target when you explode nearby. Certain walls break when you explode nearby, while others may actually move around. There are enemies, but even the enemies aid your platforming instead of getting in your way. Flying laser-shooting bots provide convenient jump-boosts, and rotating balls of death can be tricked into activating switches or breaking barriers.
Compared to Splosion Man, Ms. Splosion Man contains a vast number of new objects to interact with, although not all are good additions. My favorite is a new explosive barrel that sends you into the foreground or background of the stage, forcing you to quickly jump between the two screens to advance. It's a small thing, but it adds a lot of intensity by packing more action into a smaller space. My least favorite is the energy ball, which is a bouncing rubber ball that you can explode to move around. Knock it into a generator, and it powers it up. The problem is that the ball is slow and awkward, and it tends to slow down the pace of the game whenever it shows up. For the most part, the new features benefit the game and keep it feeling fresh.
Avoiding tedium is important because Ms. Splosion Man certainly seems more difficult than Splosion Man. It feels like it was meant to be played by people who are already familiar with the original game. It doesn't offer much in the way of tutorial levels and is less newbie-friendly than the previous game, which was already somewhat tough. You'll die a lot in Ms. Splosion Man. It expects precision platforming and pixel-perfect timing for most jumps and explosions, and failure usually results in instant death. The game offers the chance to skip tough levels, but even that doesn't do much to assuage the difficulty. Lives are infinite and checkpoints are plentiful, but this is not a game for people who are easily frustrated or don't enjoy fast-and-brutal platformers like Super Meat Boy.
The general pace of Ms. Splosion Man is pretty good. The game never sticks to one gimmick for very long, and every few levels, you'll encounter something new. It may be a new barrel, a new enemy or a new level hazard, like rising acid. The pacing is solid enough, and each new tool only stays in the spotlight for a short period of time. You might get an entire level dedicated to sliding along rails, but afterward, the rails will only show up as part of a larger puzzle. This sort of pacing keeps the simplistic gameplay enjoyable, so you'll never feel like it's "another one of those stages."
One of the interesting new features in Ms. Splosion Man is the world map. Based on Super Mario World, the world map lets you pick which level you play next. It's pretty linear, but there are optional paths you can take. Some levels offer you two options of where to go next. One is a regular stage, and the other is bright red and marked with a skull and crossbones. As you'd imagine, the latter is more dangerous and difficult. Like Super Mario World, certain levels contain hidden exits. These exits are tougher to find but unlock new stages that can feature unlockables and extra content.
While the levels are fun, some of the checkpoint designs are rather dumb. Many checkpoints are placed right before areas where you're forced to wait for a moving platform, elevator or other delayed object before you can advance. This means that dying can force you to spend 15 seconds waiting at the checkpoint before you can continue. It's a minor complaint, but it can get annoying if you're stuck in a particular area and are forced to wait again and again. There are also a few "gotcha" deaths where it's almost impossible to avoid unless you know they're coming.
In addition to the single-player mode, Ms. Splosion Man also features a multiplayer mode. The gameplay is roughly identical, except that there are two Ms. Splosion Mans instead of one. They can interact by using their explosions to propel each other to new heights. The multiplayer stages are custom-designed for multiplayer and require different tactics from the single-player story. The multiplayer mode even has its own story ending. The multiplayer is fun, but it has the potential to be even more frustrating than the single-player campaign. Someone making a mistake can ruin things for both players, and that's a lot more exasperating than when you screw up on your own. Voice communication in multiplayer matches is pretty much required because figuring out what to do without communication is an exercise in futility.
Those who aren't interested in playing online or with friends have another option. Ms. Splosion Man has a mode called "Two Girls, One Controller," where you control both the Ms. Splosion Mans with one controller. Each of the analog sticks moves one of the girls, and the right and left bumpers trigger their explosions. While a neat idea, this mode is not for the faint of heart. Trying to control two characters at once is nearly impossible. You need pretty great reflexes to play Ms. Splosion Man normally, but the Two Girls, One Controller mode means you have to keep track of two at once. There are certain elements in place to make this easier, such as both characters warping to a checkpoint when one reaches it, but you'll need robot-like reflexes to master it.
Ms. Splosion Man looks roughly identical to the original game. This is a good thing in some ways, as the original Splosion Man was lovely and had charming character animation. Unfortunately, this also means that Ms. Splosion Man keeps many of the game's flaws. When the camera zooms out too far, it can be tough to keep track of Ms. Splosion Man, especially if the background is busy and you've used up enough explosions so her colors are faded out. This isn't as bad as it was in the original game, but a few deaths will come from not spotting where you are quickly enough. There are multiple distinct "worlds" now, each with its own art style and background, so there is more variety in level design. The soundtrack mostly consists of light pop music, but it's quite soothing and does a good job of making certain levels feel less frustrating.
In some ways, Ms. Splosion Man is almost more of an expansion pack than a full-fledged sequel. The basic gameplay is untouched, but you get new levels, new enemies and new obstacles. Ms. Splosion Man features all the same fun and exciting gameplay as the original game, but it also adds in a fair amount of new things. It still has rough edges, but if you liked the original Splosion Man, there's more of the same here to enjoy. The only real problem is that it isn't a very good game for newcomers. It's best to try the original Splosion Man before you play the sequel. If you have and are dying for more, Ms. Splosion Man will be happy to provide it.
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