The classic 2D sidescrolling platformers are not so much dead as they are mummified. Every now and then a new 2D Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog will lurch out of its sarcophagus, getting gauze all over the place as it tries to recapture its glory days. While such games aren’t exactly bad, they also aren’t exactly new, aside from a few half-baked mechanics tacked on to the same basic formula. The real innovation these days is coming from indie developers, who understand that if the genre is going to capture our hearts (and wallets), it needs to offer something fresh and varied, challenging but light-hearted, something that taps into the reasons why gamers want to play platformers in the first place. Something like Explodemon.
While this game has some clear influences – the art style is very Megaman, while the platforming puzzles are reminiscent of Metroid – Explodemon isn’t afraid to walk its own path. You play as the game’s namesake, a jovial and volatile lab experiment who talks like if Minsc from Baldur’s Gate had been run through an internet translator about four times. Accidentally broken out of cryogenic stasis by the alien Vortex invasion, Explodemon takes it upon himself to heroically and gratuitously rid his people of this menace – even if that means destroying everything else in the process.
The story is light-hearted and intentionally silly, which pairs well with the cutscenes’ simple but smooth animation style. The bright colours and funky soundtrack are a welcome distraction from the drab blues and browns and obligatory orchestral score of so many of today’s Triple A games. Level design is fairly varied between the three playable worlds, with plenty of breakable walls, windows and crates to obliterate in your relentless pursuit of justice.
Everything in Explodemon is built for speed. Menus are minimalist and intuitive, with only a couple of button presses from the start screen to get you straight into the action. Though the volatile hero isn’t as blindingly quick as a certain blue hedgehog, quick reflexes are just as important if you want to stay alive.Explodemon‘s platforming is geared more towards good timing than accuracy, as with a little skill, missed jumps can often be corrected mid-flight.
Double jumps, wall jumps, phase dashes and explosions can be combined to perform all kinds of aerial manoeuvres, and more than once I found myself accidentally pulling off a move I hadn’t even known existed. The at-times blistering pace of the game encourages you to throw yourself about with reckless abandon, blasting through anything that moves – and plenty more that doesn’t. However, the inclusion of instant-death pits from the second planet onward forces you to slow down a little, but as death only takes you back to the start of the current screen, it’s a minor speed bump.
Puzzles are fairly standard, usually involving moving weighted blocks onto pressure plates or destroying a power generator to open a door. However, since Explodemon can’t actually pick anything up, solutions tend to involve skilfully timed or directed explosions, to bounce a block over a gap and set off a chain reaction. Many of these are off the level’s main path and so can be ignored, but the rewards – usually power or speed boosts – are worth the effort. However, a few required puzzles toward the end are maddeningly difficult, so don’t think you can just breeze through this game without engaging your brain a little.
Given the short range of Explodemon’s powers, combat is up close and personal. As explosions do more damage the closer you are to an enemy, precise timing is key. Explosion chains can shred single targets, and the fearless charge attack is a great way to mow through a half dozen critters in only a few seconds. Victory does tend to favour perfection, though, as the more damage you take, the less damage you can deal. Boss battles could also do with a little more variety; arch nemesis Absorbemon wins the Golden Robotnik award for most appearances with the least change in strategy required.
Explodemon’s frantic but frustrating gameplay lends itself to quick bursts, ideal for filling a spare twenty minutes here and there. Like Super Meat Boy, it instills the player with a manic determination to attempt each platforming puzzle “just one more time”, and when you do manage to pull off that perfect run, it feels pretty great. As such, both casual and more hardcore gamers should find something to enjoy with this ode to property damage. While the adventure is fairly short – only about four hours – each of the twelve levels has a par time and a ranking to beat, enough to keep completionists happily blasting away for hours.