Join me as we take a look at one of the best developers for XBLA (or 360 for that matter), and with good reason. Their blend of quarky humor and rock solid gameplay is a complete win in every regard and their purchase is probably the best move Microsoft has made in a long time. That’s right, I’m of course talking about the slightly off kilter Twisted Pixel Games. The developer was originally founded in 2006 by Michael Wilford, Frank Wilson and Josh Bear and in the beginning only did contract work for the now defunct Midway Games. They worked on the engineering part of programming for games such as NBA Ballers: Chosen one and Blitz the League 2. Fortunately, there was much more than contract work on sports games in their future and oh what a departure from sports games it was.
In 2008, Twisted Pixel decided to move in a different direction with digital distribution and after a move of their studio, set their sights on developing for WiiWare. Originally companies would have to submit their games for consideration to Nintendo, similar to Xbox Live’s set up. Instead WiiWare went in a different direction and Twisted Pixel continued talks with Microsoft.
On January 21, 2009, Twisted Pixels first original intellectual property hit digital shelves. That game was The Maw, a story about an alien named Frank and his always hungry buddy Maw. After a spaceship crash that was housing the two aliens they team up, as you guide Maw around the world eating his share of pretty much everything. Light puzzles would take place involving Maw eating to grow larger, which would allow him to eat animals that could make him float like a balloon, shoot fire and other such useful abilities. Maw was an instantly likable character and his actions brought a lot of laughs throughout the adventure. Though Maw was the first mascot that Twisted Pixel added to their roster, he probably isn’t the most recognizable. That honor arguably belongs to our next protagonist.
Splosion Man is the story of an escaped lab experiment who is as giddy as a 5 year old that has had way too much sugar. In order to escape his environment you will guide Splosion Man through more and more challenging and tightly polished platforming; all with one button which only does one thing: Splode. Sploding, you’ll soon find, is an art form all its own (I just gave my spell check an anerism). It acts as you’re attack, your trigger for the environment, and of course your jumping mechanism. The gameplay was rock solid, even more so than seen in The Maw, but it was the humor that was one of the biggest draws. Splosion Man rants and raves and pretends to be an airplane as you fly through the levels at breakneck speeds, doing everything you can to shave seconds off your time and earn yourself rewards within games. Splosion Man was also the first Xbox title to have unlockable rewards in the form of wearable items for your avatar.
One of my personally favorite games in Twisted Pixel’s line up would be their first fully voiced game: Comic Jumper the Adventures of Captain Smiley. A superhero who just happens to have a giant smiley head and the talking Star on his chest are an absolute comedic dynamo duo. I wasn’t able to stop laughing as I followed Captain Smiley, a superhero whose comic wasn’t doing so well sales wise, through an array of different comics from modern style to manga and everything in between. The action was pretty standard 2D action fare that was well done, if slightly repetetive, but again Twisted Pixel knocks it out of the park with unlockables. While I love me some achivements, this generation of gaming I’ve missed unlocking assets in the game. Comic Jumper certainly has achivements of course, but it also has a slew of unlockable art, videos, character models and even themes for your Xbox as well as clothes for your avatar.
When Mrs Splosion Man was announced, I’d have to admit I rolled my eyes a bit. I thought it would simply be Splosion Man with a bow, a sequel I would surely buy, but one I felt would never live up to the original. Imagine my surprise when Mrs Splosion man did everything her male counterpart did, and just like Mrs Pac Man before her, did it even better. The levels were that much tighter than the original, as Twisted Pixel had become more experienced and honed the original concept to a fine point. As come to expect from the humorous developer there was loads of unlockable content and the Mrs was even funnier than her spouse; spouting pieces of lyrics from pop songs and chick flicks with the same hyped up panache as Splosion Man.
The Gunstringer was an experiment, in just about every sense of the word, and one whose protagonist was born over lunch on an impromptu pitch to Microsoft. While the developers had an idea of the type of game they might want to do, they had no idea how it would take shape till they saw a skeleton like cowboy in the restaurant they were in. Instantly the Gunstringer, an undead cowboy badass who just happens to be a puppet, was born. Originally the project was to be an XBLA release, but the more Microsoft played the more they liked the game and ended up giving it a full retail release. Gunstringer wasn’t only Twisted Pixel’s first retail game, but also its first experience developing for the Kinect. Controlling the puppet’s left to right movement with one hand, you fired with the other holding your hand in a gun shape and fulfilling all your childhood dreams of your finger gun becoming a powerful weapon.
The most impressive thing that The Gunstringer accomplished, besides the top notch humor and mass of unlockables you’d expect from the developer, was that it proved that it was possible to make a more hardcore experience for the Kinect. All it took was approaching the idea from a different angle and using the Kinect in ways that didn’t require as precise movements while still making you feel like you were completely in control of a puppet in a theater show. The result was comedy and gameplay gold that is unlike anything else out there.
On October 12th, 2011, Twisted Pixel became a part of Microsoft Game Studios and began work on their next secret project. At 2012’s Xbox Conference we got to see a small blip of a trailer that hinted at something to do with a robotic motorcycle and then at the recent Penny Arcade Expo got our first gameplay glimpse of the seemingly crazy LocoCycle. Not much has been announced or shown, but you’ll play as I.R.I.S who is a top notch robotic assassin bad ass who just so happens to be a motorcycle. Sleek and sexy, she flies through the highway dodging vehicles, blowing stuff up, and oh yeah, doing what can only be described as motorcycle Kung-Fu against dudes on jet-packs. Yeah let that sentence sink in for a bit. Every bit as odd as one would expect from Twisted Pixel, it’s easily a day one purchase for me despite, and probably in part of, the complete insanity.
Twisted Pixel is a developer that is quickly becoming synonmous with bringing the funny along with polished gameplay and an extreme amount of old school unlockable content. It’s rare in games today to see mascots formed, most of what we have are leftover protagonists of a bygone age, but in my opinion Twisted Pixel knocks it out of the park everytime. They’ve not only created fun, hilarious, memorable gaming experiences, but also a stable of likable characters I haven’t seen this side of Nintendo.
For more zany fun check out our interview with Twisted Pixel, where we find out such important things as: “Who is that dude hanging off I.R.I.S back wheel in the new LocoCycle video?” and “What powers does Frank Wilson’s beard have?”.