Downloadable games can generally try something a bit different to the norm without the risk of spending millions of pounds and not getting that investment back. 'Splosion Man is such a game. A puzzle-platformer at heart, Twisted Pixel must have been drinking a lot of energy drinks when the core gameplay mechanic behind the game first made its way to a white board. You play as a slightly mad red man with the ability to make himself explode, in turn taking out everything in close vicinity. It's quite possibly the strangest idea for a game we've ever seen, but it works extremely well.
In a normal platformer you'd be able to jump, but in 'Splosion Man all you can do is run and explode. Luckily exploding will cause you to effectively leap into the air, and you're able to link three of these together before needing a very brief period to recharge. Combine this with the guy's ability to cling onto the edge of platforms and wall jump (bouncing off one wall to another) and you're dealing with what you'd expect from a platform game - just dressed up with some explosives.
Levels feature the expected obstacles, enemies and puzzles, but the goal is really to achieve high scores and fast completion times. Initial levels don't pose much of a challenge, simply serving as a way to introduce you to the gameplay mechanics and controls, but it's not long before you'll be scratching your head over the puzzles and precision jumps - and seeing the embarrassing pop-up informing you that you can skip the level in the options menu if you like, because you've died so many times.
One of the core mechanics you'll need to master is triggering the release of explosive barrels and then timing your jump so you can chain a series of jumps together, leaping from one exploding barrel to another. Lots of the game's puzzles force you to perform actions in double quick time for fear of death, such as a rising vat of acid or closing in spiked walls. You'll likely fail a few times trying to reach safe areas, simply because the game asks you to do quite a lot without having a break, but the sense of achievement when you make it to a checkpoint is superb.
On top of a tricky single-player campaign 'Splosion Man features a cooperative four-player game mode that's playable locally or over Xbox LIVE. The four exploding men can work together to create more powerful explosions, meaning timing and coordination are everything. The core 'Splosion Man experience doesn't seem like it should lend itself brilliantly to multiplayer, so Twisted Pixel should be commended for creating a bonus game mode that isn't just a throwaway feature.
While some of the presentation seems a little basic, the in-game visuals are excellent and full of character. 'Splosion Man is one of the best characters we've encountered in some time, running like a maniac and always shouting out funny one-liners - at one point we're pretty sure he uttered the famous Arnold Schwarzenegger line from Predator: "Get to the CHOPPER!" There's nothing here that will blow you away, but for an XBLA game it's really quite impressive.
'Splosion Man has come out of nowhere, with little to no hype surrounding its release, but it easily ranks as one of the best XBLA games we've played. It's a remarkably simple idea that's been turned into a truly devilish platform puzzler, and it's full of charm and humour without coming across as cheesy. At only 800 Microsoft Points 'Splosion Man comes highly recommended.