I had been looking forward to Explodemon for a long time. It was back in April of 2009 that the first trailer showed the explosive hero blasting through enemies and buildings alike, and ever since then I have been craving the action-platformer something fierce. Yet, even having followed the game's development, I was still surprised when I finally got hold of the finished product. Though I had expected Explodemon's gameplay to balance between action and platforming, the number of puzzles caught me completely off-guard. But once I recalibrated my expectations, the gameplay orgy of combat, platforming, and devious physics puzzles surpassed anything I could have hoped Explodemon to be.
The planet of Nibia is under attack by evil aliens known as the Tempest, and it seems the planet it doomed. However, just when all hope is lost, an alien bombardment breaks the seal on Explodemon's stasis cell, releasing the explosive bot and filling the Nibian people with an even greater fear. You see, Explodemon isn't entirely stable, from his broken Engrish dialog to an insatiable need to explode every few seconds, and is considered an even greater threat than the aliens. And that's who you'll be controlling through the game's three worlds of action and puzzles.
Gamers who enjoyed action platformers from the 16-bit era will feel right at home in Explodemon. In fact, Explodemon shares far more similarities with games like Mega Man X than the more common (and inaccurate) comparison to Splosion Man. First of all, Explodemon's jump and explode actions are mapped to different buttons, allowing for a diverse moveset. Without even exploding he can jump, wall jump, and slide beneath obstacles. Of course, exploding is what Explodemon does best. It can be used to extend jumps and dash across platforms, increasing maneuverability to reach new areas. Exploding also acts as the primary means of attack. The closer you get to an enemy before exploding, the more damage it deals, with a nice slow-down effect in place to let you know when an explosion deals the maximum damage. Defeating enemies fills a bar on the left side of the screen that doubles as both Explodemon's health and the power level of his attacks. Basically, the more you explode, the more powerful your explosions will become. However, those who just look at explosions as a means of attack won't get far in Explodemon.
Explodemon isn't a pure action game, and those who try to blast through will likely find themselves stuck and frustrated frequently. The game starts out with rudimentary puzzles, like using explosions to move blocks or reflect missiles at switches. However, the puzzles quickly ramp up, requiring a wide range of skills and interactions to solve as objects react to your explosions with real physics. Blocks react differently depending on how close you are, or whether you are standing, crouching, or sliding under them. This also applies to enemies, with some puzzles only solvable when looking at them as puzzle tools rather than hazards to destroy. Perhaps I am an odd case, but my gaming instincts have been trained to destroy all enemies before looking for puzzles, so this was a large mental hurdle to overcome. However, once I started looking at enemies as puzzle tools, the gameplay just clicked, and I found myself going back to replay levels and find all the hidden treasures. It wasn't even because I particularly cared about the collectables, but because the puzzles needed to find the collectables were just that unique and fun to play.
Through its 12 levels, Explodemon strikes a near-perfect balance between action, precise platforming, and challenging puzzles. However, near-perfect does mean there are some missteps along the way, and in this case those missteps are the boss encounters. Explodemon's nemesis is the fabulously purple Absorbemon, who can absorb your explosive energy to refill his own health. In theory this means using the environment as a weapon rather than attacking Absorbemon directly. However, in practice this means a lot of waiting for the right alignment of crates, missiles, or platforms, causing some of the later battles to drag on for far too long. And should you mess up at any time in the battle, Absorbemon drains your health and adds it to his own, further prolonging the battle. He is also the only boss in the game, though the arenas and tactics differ in each encounter. It's certainly not a deal breaker, but with combat, puzzles, and platforming working so harmoniously together for the rest of the game, the boss encounters feel less refined by comparison.
All of Explodemon's gameplay is wrapped in a wonderful presentation. The writing is genuinely funny, with some of Explodemon's Engrish dialog absolutely golden. The line it sometimes straddles of pithy absurdity is brilliant, with jokes that actually get funnier the second time you hear them. The visuals are loaded with personality, and the soundtrack is one worth downloading and listening to even when not playing the game.
I went into Explodemon expecting a mindless action-platformer, and came away pleasantly surprised by the gameplay depth and challenging puzzles. It's rare that a game genuinely surprises anymore, and even rarer when the surprise is better than what's expected, and Explodemon delivers on both accounts. Explodemon has been a long time coming, but it has been worth the wait. For puzzle platforming fans, Explodemon can stand on its own as one of the premier PSN exclusives alongside titles like Flower and Joe Danger.
A copy of Explodemon was provided by the developers for the purposes of this review. I played the game to completion, as well as returning to a few levels to find additional unlockables.