**Just like lemonade, but with EXPLOSIONS.** INFILTRATE subterranean strongholds manned by cunning bipedal aliens and their mind-blasting hellions! ** Dozens of CHALLENGE-ROOM-style gameplay with a zoom function that let's you in close or zooms out to see all the action! ** 2 PLAYER COOP and ONLINE Highscores!
When life calls for funding, you make Fundingade! Mommy's Best Games' latest comes as developer Nathan Fouts looks for additional revenue to support his much anticipated Grapple Buggy, the mutant love child of Bionic Commando and Blaster Master. Explosionade, a highly configurable twinstick action game, may look little more than the part of a generic fundraising stopgap at first, but further play reveals an actual game that manages to be fun while bringing some creative and innovative touches along the way. While it looks quite derivative due to assembling so many familiar parts, I'm hard pressed to think of another game which does everything Explosionade does as a mech platformer, a shooter, and a single screen arcade game.
First Lieutenant Terry Atticus, a portly soldier and the hero of the story, is stuck playing guard while the remaining troops in the Goliath Division left to take on the final Horronym fortress. Bored, Atticus stumbles upon an experimental mech GRenaDOS and heads into the sewers looking to pick off rats to pass the time, only to find that the true Horronym base is located in the same sewers. While Explosionade's story is as bland as any other action game fodder, there's a few amusing lines along the way as Atticus talks to himself and his superior, Colonel Dagwood Bouche, via radio communications throughout the game. The bits of dialogue help break up the action and distract the player from the repetitive environments as Atticus travels deeper and deeper into the sewers.
Explosionade's sewers are a series of 41 rooms in which GRenaDOS must avoid or dispatch Horronym enemies and advance through the exit. The mech is equipped with a cannon, a grenade launcher, a shield, and can jump and hover for a bit. Grenades can be made sticky or bouncy depending upon whether the player taps or holds the right trigger to release them. Fouts included the ability to speed up or slow down the game, and I found this pressure sensitive control scheme works okay at default pace but becomes steadily unreliable as the game approaches 200% speed. (Unfortunately, there's no way to split the two functions to separate buttons even though the game allows players to remap every single action to whatever they prefer.) The left trigger controls the shield which both blocks all incoming projectiles and can be used to bounce the mech into the air by activating just prior to landing from a fall. Both the shield (when active in the air) and the hover jets can make the mech fly for a short duration, but each use is limited as prolonged shielding overheats the mech temporarily and the jets will fizzle out after a few seconds. The mech is sluggish to control and moves about deliberately, but smart use of the shield bounce will speed up the player's progression significantly, allowing GRenaDOS to pinball all over the place and slaughtering most everything in its path.
One of the more satisfying ways to dispatch enemies is to stomp on them or kick them from a higher platform and let them splat on the ground. The Horronyms come in all shapes and sizes, from little bipedal aliens and mutant bats to various armaments including cannons and probes. Spike Rollers, ugly red doodlebugs which roll along whichever surface they are found, can only be destroyed by blowing up the ground from under them, causing them to fall on their back where they can then me stomped or fired upon. Roughly every ten or so levels introduces a boss battle, three of which are different kinds of Berzerker -- large, ugly floating tentacle masses which can take a beating and dish it out, too. Although the player does not need to destroy every enemy to proceed from room to room, Atticus must defeat each of these bosses before the exit will open and allow him to advance. These boss Horronym encounters don't vary much beyond appearance but are still welcomed for the added variety they bring to the game's progression. Despite its heavily repetitive look and play, Explosionade's level design and enemy tactics keep things moving along without ever feeling overly tedious or rehashed.
That said, the game still does look repetitive. Beyond changes in enemy types, there is no variety as Atticus moves from room to room. Each level is walled in by a rusting dull metallic border, it's interior populated by orange pipes and girders, some concrete slabs, and wooden barricades. The animation on GRenaDOS and its enemies is competent but hardly noticeable when the game is zoomed out (right bumper) such that the entire field is viewed at once. This is the ideal way to play the game from a playability standpoint, but much of the detail is lost as a result. It shouldn't matter, however, as Fouts' artwork remains as terrible and gaudy as ever, another game of ugly monsters and garish color schemes threatening the player's sensibilities. I get the feeling if Fouts were a bit younger he would have been a good fit for Zyrinx whose Sub-Terrania was also drawn from a hideous palette of clashing colors and ugly monstrosities. All of Nathan Fouts' and by extension Mommy's Best Games' follow that lead of making these excellent games which are completely devoid of style but entirely worth playing. Fouts appears to technically be a good artist -- I am rather impressed by the Bionic Commando: Rearmed style dialogue portraits -- but one in need of some lessons on style so that his works can be made more eye-catching.
Add in two player local co-op, three different difficulty settings, 15 achievement style awards, and global scoreboards via score sharing, Explosionade offers as much longevity as one can expect from an arcade game, particularly one at such a low price. I do wish the scoreboard differentiated between difficulties as each Gamertag is limited to one score, which is usually good except it was weird to see that my higher "Chilled" score wiped out my slightly lower "Normal" score despite the added challenge. Likewise, the game allows players to continue only from whichever was the last board accessed, meaning that my "Serious" encounter with the final boss was just wiped by simply booting a new game and exiting. Some mild disappointments aside, for what seemingly appears to be a stopgap effort, Explosionade proved to be a more enjoyable experience than I figured going into it. The gameplay and especially the shield mechanics call for a better game, but what's here is fun and rewarding while it lasts. As long as we keep getting releases such as this out of Mommy's Best Games, Grapple Buggy can wait.