“When life gives you explosions, make explosionade!” crows Atticus, the gluttonous mech-borrower protagonist of Mommy’s Best Games’ deceptively shooter-esque Explosionade.
Playing as the future/space/whatever army’s resident slacker, Atticus, you are left behind to guard the base while all your knucklehead fellows go charging off to fight the decisive battle. While trying to stave off boredom you stumble across a new prototype mech and take it into the sewer for target practice. Hey, who hasn’t stolen a piece of cutting edge military hardware and used it to shoot poo? War effort be damned, I want to get payback on that particularly flush-resistant floater from last night. What good is defeating an alien menace if we all still have unsatisfactory bowel movements? Might as well just roll over and give up.
The prototype mech doesn’t disappoint. Aside from having a very fetching, SNES-era chunky build, it’s tooled up to the teeth. And it’s a good thing the army didn’t decide to do anything logical like not putting live ammo in a dormant mech, as Atticus finds a lot more than stubborn excretions down in the sewer. Between the bats, enemy soldiers and huge missile-spitting monsters these pipes would make even the Australian sanitation system look deserted. The prospect of a venomous spider crawling out of your Sydney hotel room toilet seems less alarming when you’ve had to deal with an alien rifleman shoving its head up round the u-bend for a reccy.
Titling the game Explosionade creates a certain expectation – an expectation of things going ‘bang’ with gleeful abandon. Those old enough or faux-retro ‘cool’ enough might glance at the SNES-y explosions, the chunky mech sprite and the industrial sci-fi environment, and think Cybernator or maybe Super Turrican. I know I did, at least for the first couple of rooms. But Explosionade is one of those games that are not what they seem to be. All too often on XBLIG, that’s a disappointment – a city management sim that turns out not to be (Megalopolis) or an inventive platformer that turns out to be a bare-faced troll that giggles mockingly while rubbing its groinal regions on your face (Game 35). Not Explosionade though. It’s not what I expected, but is no less enjoyable for defying my assumptions.
It wasn’t long before Explosionade stopped reminding me of a platform shooter like Cybernator, Turrican or Contra and started evoking memories of the (more recent) classy XBLIG release Escape Goat from Magical Time Bean. Escape Goat seems to be a platformer and Explosionade seems to be a shooter with platform bits, but both games are actually room-based puzzle-platformers.
Your mech’s weapons, while impressively powerful, are less for destroying everything you see than for finding your way to the exit. The game is a series of single-screen rooms with hazards and enemies laid out in such a way that it takes a bit of thought to cross them. Explosionade isn’t as puzzley as Escape Goat, and certainly features more combat, but they are in the same ball park. It also has hints of the trap-dodging nimble platforming that we see mainly in punishment platformers (though mercifully free of the obnoxious difficulty).
While your basic gun is useful only for combat, your other abilities are far more versatile. You’re given an unlimited supply of ‘meganades’ (grenades), which can destroy many platforms and walls, and stick to surfaces or rattle around like pinballs. Your emergency shield ability has a more strategic secondary use in enabling you to bounce off walls and floors. And many manoeuvres require you to combine one or more of these tools with judicious use of the jetpack.
Enemies in Explosionade are typically not just cannon fodder, but more like roving, well-armed obstacles in each puzzle. These rooms won’t test your brain too much and can usually be navigated with just a few seconds of forethought, but this, combined with the single-room-based format, pushes the game away from 16-bit scrolling shooters into more thoughtful territory. The exception is the occasional boss enemies which simplify things down to their shooter roots with a ‘shoot the big thing while not getting shot’ grenade-spamathon.
None of this is a bad thing. Although there aren’t that many SNES-style platform shooters on XBLIG, there are even fewer well executed hybrid shooter-puzzlers. If you want a Contra-alike, check out the same developer’s earlier release, Weapon of Choice. It’s a well done and charming, if short, example of the formula. But Explosionade offers something that shooter fans, platform fans and puzzle fans can get behind – it is none of these genres, but provides enough of each to be well worth playing regardless of your preferences.
Plus there was no poo after all. And there’s no higher praise than that.