PSN Review – Explodemon!

A new explode-able hero has arrived to the 2D platforming scene on the PlayStation Network! Does he pack the firepower to blow his enemies into oblivion, delivering a fresh and fun adventure to gamers, or is he just another dud? Find out here in PlayStation LifeStyle’s review of Explodemon!

Explodemon! is a single player side scrolling action platformer with a combustible twist. The protagonist of the game, Explodemon, is prone to emitting an explosion from time to time. Considering the name, that may not have come as much of a surprise. However, what may be unexpected is the diversity of challenges presented which focus on proper use of this ability. Explodemon is not only able to erupt on command, but if left alone for long enough he must release some steam with a burst of his power. This isn’t usually much of an issue though, since throughout the game player’s will be using this power constantly, only slowed down by the cool down time between explosions.

The premise of the game is fairly simple. An evil group known as the Vortex are attacking Explodemon’s home planet Nibia. He is the last of the guardians, but is unstable and so the Nibians don’t want to let him out of stasis. However, a stray rocket explodes his confinement, releasing him to prove his worth in an attempt to defend his home planet. His efforts are not always appreciated, since his detonations cause a lot of collateral damage. Various characters will talk to Explodemon throughout his quest, often expressing discontent about his destruction of the area, or are simply baffled by his replies. Explodemon’s speech is rather confusing, since his gibberish is meant to resemble the extremely poor Japanese translations often seen in video games from the mid-’80s and early ’90s. Sometimes it results in humorous conversations, but more often than not it’s just confusing. This is even pointed out by his nemesis, Absorbemon, in an attempt at giving a light-hearted poke at old SNES games where this used to be the norm.

Explodemon uses his blasting power for everything, from giving an extra boost to his jumps, to attacking enemies, using it for a speed burst to sprint temporarily, and solving physics based puzzles strewn throughout the levels. At first, he can only get an extra boost for his jumps and sprint, but as the game progresses he gains more powers, and the player learns more about the physics of the game. Almost every fight with enemies throughout the game involves melee like attacks, since Explodemon must be close to his enemies while he explodes in order to damage them. Eventually a three hit combo can be unlocked, allowing multiple successive hits in a row. Early in the game enemies appropriately do little damage, which is good since there is a bit of a learning curve to get the timing right. If an enemy doesn’t go down in the first hit, the player must back off for a moment while Explodemon’s power recharges, which only takes a second or two, but he is left defenseless during this time. Luckily his sprinting ability also acts as an attack, and Explodemon can run straight through his enemies, doing damage and creating distance between them at the same time. Throughout each level Explodemon can find speed chargers, which increase the rate of his power recharge. There are 5 in each level, and they only last for that level, and must be recollected on each level. There are also 5 golden speed chargers hidden throughout the game, which upon being collected permanently upgrade his charging rate. These become critical as the game progresses and more enemies are on screen at a time, requiring smart combinations of successive explosions to make it out unscathed.

Explodemon! also has a unique health system, with each level starting the player with minimal health. As enemies are defeated power orbs can be absorbed to increase Explodemon’s health, which is split into three sections. As each section is filled Explodemon’s attacks become slightly more powerful, and he moves faster too. Thus, there is further incentive to keep his health at maximum other than just survival. The game provides numerous ways to acquire health, with pickups, charging stations, and the power orbs. Destroyed enemies drop coins as well, and most other objects in the game drop these coins too when destroyed. Between levels players can then visit a shop to spend coins on various upgrades, such as increasing explosive power, armor, and increasing the time his speed burst lasts. By the completion of the game there will likely be upgrades still left to purchase, which is okay since you probably won’t find every secret on the first run, and some players may wish to return to earlier levels to do speed runs as well.

The game is really a throw back to old school platformers, and shows it in many ways. Throughout the twelve levels there are secrets everywhere, and many are hidden passages that aren’t visible on the screen. They’ll be found by walking up against what appears to be a wall, only to end up walking behind the barrier to a secret room on the other side. Some secrets are hidden on top of platforms where Explodemon can walk around off screen, and then other secrets are hidden within a secret. As a result people seeking 100% completion will find themselves sliding against every wall in a level.

Some of these areas aren’t accessed so simply though. The game is filled with puzzles, which require proper utilization of the explosive powers to complete. Some involve exploding next to a combustible block in order to fire it across the screen to areas inaccessible to Explodemon, while others require precision shots to have a block weigh down a switch plate.

Firing these explosive blocks across a screen is also one of the only forms of ranged attack Explodemon has. Curve Studios was smart enough to include an aiming mode, which works fairly well with a bit of practice. Any time Explodemon is next to a moveable object, holding down L2 or R2 brings up an aiming cursor, and displays the path the object will take upon exploding. This allows for more complicated and clever puzzles to take place, and is also useful in certain battles, so it’s important to get accustomed to.

Explodemon also has a deflective ability, which can send rockets and other projectiles back at enemies if he blows up at the correct timing. Unfortunately, the aim mode won’t show the path of deflected objects, so they are much more difficult to aim. Certain puzzles and enemies can only be defeated utilizing this later in the game, and much practice will be needed to get the hang of this.

Explodemon! does a good job of mixing battles and puzzles through the twelve levels, but it isn’t without some minor drawbacks. The levels take place across three planets, with four levels per planet and a distinct theme on each planet. However, within each planet the theme is rather bland, and it results in every level on that planet looks virtually identical. The only way to tell them apart is by the layout of the level. Most of the time playing is spent running through maze-like corridors, and since everything looks the same it becomes easy to get lost at times.

Also, while Explodemon has a few upgradeable abilities, and it’s nice that the game focuses on having the player make good use of his unique power, it almost focuses a bit too much on that. By the end of the game, the jump, explode, jump, explode, jump, explode formula begins to get a bit repetitive. He does have another ability known as the phase dash, but after acquiring the power the player is never presented with a reason to use it. All it does is dash him forward a bit, which is something you’re able to do at the beginning of the game by exploding. Otherwise he never really develops too many new abilities, and only becomes a bit more powerful through upgrades.

The boss fights throughout the game are a bit underwhelming too. Generally there is a specific technique for winning each one, and the challenge is figuring out what that is. Once done, it’s just a matter of rinse and repeat until you win. This may be another way of giving a nod to retro games, but unfortunately those portions just weren’t much fun. Couple that with each boss fight actually being the same guy, and it gets a bit droll pummeling him again and again.

Regardless of these minor draw backs, Explodemon! is a fun game, and does a good job of bringing back retro game elements that are rarely seen in new titles any more. The core gameplay mechanic is unique, and works well as it was intended. The puzzles and challenges sport all levels of difficulty, some of which are extremely hard and will have players dying 20 times in a row before accomplishing them. These difficult challenges are usually optional portion of the levels, but the last few levels have a few parts that can make the blood boil a bit. While this may be frustrating, it is reminiscent of the difficulty found in older games which required trial and error, precise timing and control, and a whole lot of patience. The game has a liberal checkpoint system, and infinite lives allowing as many chances as necessary to complete these if so desired, so there isn’t much backtracking for perfectionists trying to complete and find everything in the game, or much of a punishment for a “Fail Ending”.

There are also 10 collectible items called Explodicons hidden in every level, and a rating system at the end of each level which grades players with D, C, B, A, and S rankings.  It sports a decent length too, since exploring each level fully takes about a half hour per level. An online leader board encourages speed runs though, most of which clock in at about 5 minutes or less, giving reason to play through the game again. Beyond that there isn’t much replayability here, and it’s single player only, so most players will get about 10 – 12 hours at most of game time out of this before it gets too repetitive. It can be easily be blown through in less than 2 hours, and so it primarily benefits people who enjoy finding secrets, solving puzzles, getting every last collectible to find, and acquiring the elusive S rankings, which will take much longer.

Explodemon! is available now for $9.99 only on the PlayStation Network, and is worth picking up if you enjoy retro style platformers mixed with a new bang. For more information about Explodemon!, check out our interview with Jonathan Biddle and Ed Fear from Curve Studios.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Classic retro gameplay

Environment looks very similar throughout the game

– Can become repetitive

7 out of 10