Unlike many platformers that are packed with button-pressing combos to master, ’Splosion Man revels in simplicity. As the game manual expressly states, every button on your controller makes you do the same thing: “splode.”
You splode to jump, splode to destroy obstacles, and splode to attack as you run through levels as the titular character, an escaped lab experiment wreaking vengeance as he tries to escape. Your scientist captors have set up deathtraps to squish, drown, shred, or stab you to death, but you can often co-opt those traps and turn the tables in spectacular ways, blowing scientists into butcher-shop-neat packages of meat.
The newest outing from the creators of The Maw proves that you don’t need a long list of special moves to make a game challenging. Many of the game’s 50 levels are brutally hard, requiring a mix of practiced timing and creative thinking. You have no life bar, so injuries either cause mostly harmless setbacks, or kill you outright. Saves are well-spaced, so you’ll often be able to figure out a puzzle by trial and error, but in other places, you can be forced through a grueling series of jumps as you avoid lethal obstacles on the way to the next auto-save. The frustrating inability to control how the camera zooms can often result in death from a trap you didn’t see coming.
The gameplay often challenges your instincts. Extra points are awarded for killing scientists, but sometimes if you run after them, you’ll get yourself killed by a trap, while if you run away, it kills them for you. Some scientists have to be carried around as literal human shields to get you past obstacles. Boss fights are especially novel, with a long string of new attacks and ways for you to damage them keeping you from settling into any sort of pattern.
Levels can be cleared fast, but the game has high replay value. There are time-based score bonuses which can only be achieved once you have a real mastery of the board. Each level also has a hidden cake—likely in homage to Portal—which are easy to miss during a first pass. Multiplayer adds a new element in the form of coordinating your splosions for more effect. And the low price makes this a fantastic find.