Indie Platformer Marathon: Explodemon!

I’m back from vacation, and the Indie Platformer Marathon continues! Next up is Explodemon!, a game by Curve Studios, the same developers responsible for Stealth Bastard, which I’ve written about before (incidentally, Stealth Bastard recently got a brand new, for-sale Deluxe version which looks excellent, but probably won’t make it into this marathon due to time constraints). Explodemon! was actually released first, but spent quite some time as a Playstation Network exclusive, later being ported to PC, allowing me to play it since I don’t own a Playstation. Unfortunately, it’s more famous for some (false) controversy than for the game itself: just after announcing Explodemon!, the team discovered that another indie developer, Twisted Pixel, had independently come up with the same core idea, namely a protagonist with the ability to explode him/herself. Repeatedly. While the two teams were amiable about the coincidence (read an interesting blog post with the full story from Curve’s point of view here), Twisted Pixel’s game Splosion Man released first, and this ended up being bad news for Explodemon!. Suddenly everyone was calling Explodemon! a ripoff, even though it had actually started development before Splosion Man. This even prevented the team from securing publishing deals, forcing them to finish development with their own funding.

But finish it they did, and it’s a good thing too, because Explodemon! is well worth playing.

Explodemon! is a game about explosions. While real explosions are loud, terrifying and deadly, idealized explosions have long held a dear place in our hearts. Explosions are the main selling point of a significant portion of the film industry, and one could trace the history of action games by the ever-increasing graphical fidelity of their explosions. Curve Studios celebrate this legacy, by creating a game in which it is literally impossible to go longer than ten seconds without something exploding. I’m not even joking: there’s a timer that makes title character Explodemon explode automatically if he hasn’t already done so in the last ten seconds (although this time limit can be extended by purchasing upgrades, which is kind of bizarre — why would you want to have fewer explosions?). The explosions look good and sound good, and they more often than not set off chains of other explosions (as is only proper) complete with broken shards of glass and metal flying everywhere. What I’m saying is that they didn’t skimp on the explosions.

With a fast-paced chiptune-inspired soundtrack to match the explosive mayhem, I was actually expecting a more frantic affair. I figured that Explodemon would be nimbly dashing between enemies, barely under control, while pretty much everything on the screen exploded. Turns out the pace is just a tiny bit more measured than that, which is actually a good thing. Don’t worry, I still got to send Explodemon flying across the screen exploding everything, but I had to actually plan out such maneuvers with a bit of finesse. Explosions, you see, are useful for more than just exploding things. They can also propel Explodemon through the air, or give him bursts of speed. Clumsy button-mashing gives clumsy results and ineffective explosions. Explodemon! rewards explosion efficiency, by which I mean maximizing one’s explosions to reach full explosion potential. By exploding.

The game takes clear inspiration from the Mega Man series, with Explodemon cast as one of several humanoid robots, each with a unique ability (can you guess what Explodemon’s ability is?). The similarities are primarily in the story, setting and graphical style, however, because Explodemon! actually plays quite differently to the Mega Man games (the closest in feel might be the Mega Man X games, but even those aren’t that close). The various stages can be traversed non-linearly, often featuring branching paths into secret areas, and the physics engine is actually quite important. There are numerous physics-based puzzles, often involving using explosions to hurl boxes (or, better yet, bombs) into specific locations, probably generating a lot more explosions as a result. Later on, enemies are used as components in puzzles as well, creating a surprising variety of tricky situations that deftly avoided repeating themselves.

Speaking of enemies, combat was pretty awkward at first. Explodemon has to get up close to his enemies before exploding, which felt odd because I’m used to tackling enemies at range in games like this. But after picking up a few more abilities and getting practice with the controls, I ended up quite enjoying combat. Boosting (exploding while running for a speed boost), redirecting enemy projectiles with explosions, exploding enemies to send them careening into other enemies who also explode, knocking enemies into deadly electrical beams (via explosions), or simply using explosions to hurl bombs at enemies which subsequently explode — all of these can be used to smash rooms full of enemies in a very satisfying manner. The enemy variety increases in later stages as well, which helps keep combat interesting.

With all the explosions going off, it’s a good thing that Exlodemon! is unashamedly silly. The plot, told in beautiful animated cutscenes with a graphic novel aesthetic, is a pastiche of science fiction tropes and videogame plots, as the creator of the Guardian robots tries to save his home planet from invasion by the Vortex. Explodemon himself is a defective Guardian, unable to stop himself from exploding constantly and destroying everything even as he attempts to save it. Conversations with locals in the various stages feature Expolodemon speaking in garbled, semi-intelligible nonsense, and it’s these outbursts that could potentially grate on players whose senses of humor don’t jibe with those of the developers. I found them amusing, but some might not. Fortunately many of these moments are optional.

The game itself is pretty short, taking around 4-6 hours to complete, but players are encouraged to return to previous stages to find all the secrets. And Explodemon! is absolutely packed full of secrets. Every stage has ten hidden “explodicons” to collect, in addition to boosters to increase explosion power (which acts as both the strength of Explodemon’s explosions and his life meter) or reduce the cooldown between explosions. There’s also money scattered around that can be used to upgrade Explodemon between missions. I ended up not buying any of the upgrades because I was saving up for the super-expensive Golden Speedcharger, which would be a permanent reduction to Explodemon’s cooldown time (regular speedchargers reset for each stage). Don’t do this. After completing the game I still didn’t have nearly enough money; this is clearly meant for those players who are going through stages again and again to find every last secret, including the four other Golden Speechargers, which must be very well hidden because I didn’t find a single one. I had better luck with explodicons, usually managing to snag 6-8 out of 10 on each stage, although sometimes I had to repeat a section a few times to grab one. It’s definitely possible to mess up and lose one’s chance at snagging these barring replaying the stage, however, which is annoying. Repetition also became more frequent in the final stages, when some instant-death elements are introduced, making simple navigation far more deadly. For me, this never quite became aggravating, but others might lose patience.

Overall, though, I quite enjoyed Explodemon! If you like explosions, it’s definitely worth a look, and the current price is a good deal. You can order the PC version straight from Curve Studios on the official site, or the Playstation version via Playstation Network. Those interested in the PC version will be happy to know that it’s a solid port. The default keyboard controls are odd, but fully remappable, and there’s joypad support too. The game didn’t recognize my third-party pad, but I ended up using its programming software to map keys to the pad myself anyway. While the large HUD (that’s “heads-up display”, referring to Explodemon’s life meter and such) betrays that the game was designed for a distant television rather than a computer monitor, it rarely gets in the way, and there are plenty of resolutions supported. There is a noticeable lack of antialiasing, however. It might be possible to force that through graphics drivers, but I didn’t bother trying since it wasn’t too distracting. There were too many explosions going off anyway.

Explosions.

EDIT: The Indie Platformer Marathon is now complete! See all the posts here.

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