When I first heard about 'Splosion Man, a downloadable exclusive for the Xbox 360 in which our hero blows himself up to kill his enemies, I thought of Kaboom! The Suicide Bomber Game , a free and highly controversial PC game in which players control a bomber who runs around a city street looking for crowds in which to detonate himself.
Happily, 'Splosion Man hasn't any of Kaboom's political subtext. It's simply a game about a fiery, radioactive fellow who is the by-product of experiments carried out by a group of mad scientists in an underground laboratory. He runs around the scientists' lair exploding himself over and over again (he is immune to his own detonations) to overcome a variety of common platform-style obstacles, including squashing mechanisms, missile turrets, and spinning spikes.
It just so happens that most of these contraptions are controlled by white-coated brainiacs who will stop their devious deeds only if blown into Flintstones-style steaks and riblets.
Oddly, it actually feels a bit like another Xbox Live Arcade game; the superlative N+ . In that game players controlled a stick man who leapt around a monochrome world en route to an exit while avoiding missiles and other perils. Replace N+'s jumping with 'Splosion Man's exploding mechanic-which often works like a jump-and you have something surprisingly similar, and every bit as compelling.
But while the platforming shenanigans are undeniably fun, my favourite part of the game is its humour.
Our crispy hero is a perpetually giggling lunatic with maniacal eyes and the personality of a toddler (he likes to run around pretending he's an airplane or a monster), and his brilliant but evil nemeses are nearly as goofy. There were moments in which I actually laughed aloud, such as when I ran across a particularly large scientist who was resistant to explosions. 'Splosion Man suddenly hugged him, at which point the game's tense score was immediately replaced by an upbeat acoustic guitar ditty the primary lyrics of which were "everybody loves donuts." It took me a while to figure what purpose this portly PhD served (I won't ruin it for you here), but suffice to say it was quite comical.
I also got a chuckle from an ad hidden in the background of one environment with a picture of a cute chihuahua that encouraged players to "donate your pets to Big Science."
'Splosion Man is part of Microsoft's "Summer of Arcade," an annual deluge of downloadable games released through Xbox Live Arcade (created, it seems, to divert gamers' attention from the fact that the warmer months are typically devoid of quality boxed fare). The most memorable titke from last year's line-up was Braid, a brilliant and beautiful interactive meditation on broken relationships.
While 'Splosion Man doesn't pretend to be as thought provoking or meaningful as a game like Braid , I'd argue that it's just as much fun to play. Indeed, I'll be surprised if any of the remaining Summer of Arcade games-including the much anticipated Trials HD and Shadow Complex-can best it in terms of sheer entertainment (or value, given that it's only 800 Microsoft Points and offers a good six hours of single player adventuring plus a time trial mode and online play).
To curious Xbox 360 owners I say this: Give it a go.
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