Its just possible that I might be an idiot, but I never realised that naming Ms Pacman: “Ms Pacman” was a joke name for a game. I cant believe that the developers came up with such a ridiculous name for a game so many years ago. Worse, I can’t believe it took over twenty years for me to get it. With the release of Ms Splosion Man on consoles though, I finally got the joke. In this particular case though, the laughter continued beyond the title and into the game.
Ms Splosion Man is from the genuinely funny maniacs at Twisted Pixel. With titles like Splosion Man, Comic Jumper and the more recent (but equally mental) Kinect title Gunstringer in their catalogue, you know that this is a developer that places as much emphasis on characterful cartoons and outright mayhem as graphics or gameplay. While Comic Jumper was more funny than fun though, Ms Splosion Man is far better balanced between addictive, momentum based gameplay and riotous, third wall-breaking humour.
Central to the appeal of the game is the titular character. While Splosion Man was a frenetic, insane experiment gone wrong who dementedly ran and jumped through levels, exploding constantly and converting scientists to piles of charred dust, Ms Splosion Man is demented in a completely different way. While her male counterpart hurtled through levels at breakneck speed while spouting one liners from 80’s action movies, she prefers to skip along and sing to herself, albeit in a deranged, singsong, lullaby manner. Her voice may be that of a homicidal chipmunk, but to hear her exclaim lyrics to early nineties girl bands songs is somehow hilarious. The moment you see her idle animation is from a certain famous Beyonce video and her garbled chipmunk speech is saying, “ifyoulikeitthenyoubetterputaringonit” is a high point in recent gaming comedy.
Its not just the character and humour of the game that is similar to the original. Like PacMan and his female counterpart, the Mr and Mrs Splosion pair have a lot in common. Both games have the same frenetic, forward motion with success being rewarded with more speed and quicker progression. At heart a time trial-style platformer, you run through the level using your “Splosions” to boost you higher with each jump. Having up to three of these before you need to land on the ground again, you try and get as quickly from A to B, using the Splosions as both a means to get where you’re going and also as an attack to fry humans and other types of enemies. Other mechanics come in too, like bouncing off of walls, sliding along zip lines and being fired out of barrels. The last two are new to the series and add some more complexity (and comedy) to proceedings.
Boss fights pop up from time to time and although they are some of the high points of the game, they can also be the most frustrating as at times it becomes difficult to see the action. You are sometimes very small on screen or even off-screen completely – at least that’s how it appears. Apart from that, the game also has some random and brutal difficulty spikes. The difficulty combines with the time trial nature of the gameplay making it a game that occasionally forces you to hit the guide button to play something else. Dying is one thing, but scraping through a level slowly and awkwardly feels much worse. That being said, practice goes a long way and it can be supremely rewarding when you begin to master the intricacies of controlling the crazy pink lady.
While there’s a few jokes about shoes and malls that are a little too broad to evoke laughter, Ms Splosion Man’s humour hits far more than it misses. This is a rare game; one that is both funny AND fun. If Twisted Pixel keep striking the balance between these two qualities, they will perhaps one day create a game and a character as enduing as the great Man of Pac himself.
8 scorched scientists out of 10