The bigger picture -- that is to say, a world map with a top-down view -- reveals environments that lie far outside the clinical laboratories of the first game. Ms. Splosion Man's initial escape represents Twisted Pixel's attempt to provide a clearer tutorial phase, while the red labels on more difficult levels, such as one set on a picturesque tropical island, are meant to eliminate the surprise of a sudden jump in difficulty. The harder levels don't mess with the elegance of the one-button splode jump, though they are likely to rely on some of the new transport gimmicks.Just like her now-imprisoned predecessor, Ms. Splosion Man succeeds when she captures and controls her wild locomotion. More crudely, it's about connecting all the dots -- and Twisted Pixel has made sure to upgrade every one of those dots. You'll still trigger explosive barrels to become an impromptu rocket, but you'll also slide across zig-zagging zip lines, bounce off trampolines and hurtle out of cannons, sometimes within the same elaborate pattern. Sussing out those sequences and 'sploding with split-second timing doesn't seem any less satisfying now that your avatar is wearing a cute yellow bow.
Boss fights were a point of disappointment for Twisted Pixel in the first Splosion Man, and the solution has been to augment the sequel's big baddies with a greater variety in attacks and animations. They're also just plain bigger -- the first boss, a robotic goliath that chases Ms. Splosion Man through the recurrently ruined halls of Big Science, is an imposing reminder of just how much larger the levels are. With the aid of asset streaming technology (introduced in last year's Comic Jumper), Twisted Pixel no longer has to squeeze the entirety of each level into memory, and can easily raise the ceiling to show off a lightning storm in the distance, or a procession of flying Jetsons cars. The gorgeous graphics, nuanced animation and infectious soundtrack all work together to destroy the impression you may have once had of Twisted Pixel, the little indie developer that just needed a little polish here and there.
The company's sense of humor remains intact, however, and Ms. Splosion Man expertly taps on two different parts of the brain: the stupid one that processes pop culture fragments and laughs at the misfortune of others; and one that castigates that other part for being so politically incorrect. Here's what we're working with: Ms. Splosion Man doesn't collect cakes hidden throughout the level, but shoes. You'll also encounter Mandy, a rotund woman that Ms. Splosion Man will happily carry as a human shield in order to bypass missile launchers and lasers, and a wheelchair-bound scientist that can't do much when he's kicked into hazards or enemies.
You couldn't do that before, but if you're looking for the best reason to justify this packed, gender-bender sequel (featuring 50 single-player levels, and another 50 in multiplayer), I can think of a pretty good one: Twisted Pixel simply hasn't exhausted every possible Total Recall reference yet. It seems like there are at least two weeks' worth in this one.