Splosion-Man-10 Ah, Science.  That volatile little powder keg of discovery and mistakes.  A playground for man to play god, create monsters and then have them run amok in their technological fortresses.  Good stuff.  And a good basic plot for developer Twisted Pixel Games Xbox Live Arcade title, 'Splosion Man.

I had the good fortune of running into Michael Wilford the CEO of the company in the Xbox booth at Comic-Con last week.  He was playing the game by himself and I crept over to take a look.  He paused, saw me and said, "Have you had a chance to play this yet?"  I said, "I had to tear myself away from it to come here."  He smiled.  I had no idea who he was but we chatted for several minutes about the game.  He told me that after their first game The Maw, it took a team of only 9 people 6 months to make it, using their own proprietary engine. Wow!  That's people who love what they do and it shows in their latest offering.

At it's core the game is a 2D-ish puzzle platformer.   You run and jump and super-jump exploding up to 3 times before you have to re-charge on a flat surface or sliding down walls.  There's exploding barrels and nitro-barrels, plasma barriers and switches.  It's not new stuff but they take what's already been imagined and make it uniquely their own. Give some of that Old Time Religion, as the song says.

Splosion-Man-4

Gameplay: 9.5

With 50 levels of single player and and additional 50 levels of multi-player this game is a beast to reign in.  And the difficulty ramps up very quickly.  This is not a Ninja Gaiden throw-your-controller-out-the-window but you will crack the casing at least a few times. From talking with Michael there were some concerns that having so many levels would distract your average gamer, but the clever level design justifies the additional expanse and only adds to the games value and appeal.  The pacing of the game is exceptional.  Certain levels feel impossible but they smartly have save points that allow you to continue and recoup.  As you play through they also include FREE gamer pics and a premium theme for completing the game.  This is something, every developer should take a note from.  Reward the PLAYERS!

Sound:  9.5

The sound here is better than any arcade title released yet.  From the explosions to the chattering of the main character everything here is fun and conducive to the overall experience.  Special accolades must be made to the composers:

Joshua R. Mosley: Single-Player tracks

John DeBorde: Muliti-Player tracks

Matt "Chainsaw" Chaney: "Donuts Go Nuts" track.  This is the best track since Portal's "Still Alive."

You  can download the entire soundtrack at www.Splosionman.com

Graphics: 9

I don't want to give away too much, but as fast paced as this game is, hover around the rest points and check out the environments. From the Pause menu to to the opening screens there's lots to see and take in.  And as you would expect the explosions are beautiful, man!

Value: 9

There is 100's of hours of gameplay here.  Even if you take the "Cowards Way"  there are still the time trials and multi-player.  I can't wait to see the DLC for this game.  I would personally love to see a replay mode where you can revisit your best times or other players attempts and slow the action down to see all the gory details.

Overall: 9.5

The best value I have seen for the money in years.  And I am an Xbox Live Founding Member.  This is undoubtably the smartest 10 bucks (800 MS  Points) you could spend.

On a personal note:  Please let me know when you guys/gals announce your next project! An MMO?  Please?!