Developed By: Red Blue Games
Published By: Maple Whispering and Merge Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
At times, I do miss playing top-down pixelated 2D action-adventure games such as Zelda as I used to on my GameBoy and indulge in some adventurous tunes and seek out saving the world. Sparklite tries to offer an alternative twist to the adventure by featuring a mechanic main character named Ada wielding a wrench instead of a green elf using a sword. Ada is fully geared with not only a wrench but a hammer with a few gadgets up her sleeves as well as a companion robot to take down a mining industry polluting their world. The story shows potential especially when it reflects with our current real-world problems with pollution and forest fires. Did the game shine bright or fade into darkness? We shall see…
The Story is Too Lite
The game tells you a story mostly via text that an engineer named Ada crashed her ship on an unknown land called Geodia that is highly dependant on a mineral called Sparklite. Soon after our protagonist wakes up in a place referred to as Refuge, a floating town whose inhabitants flee from their homes in Geodia due to a villain by the name of Baron and his minions building mines to dig up Sparklite. Pollution spreads and pours out sticky goo tarnishing and altering animals into monsters in the aftermath of the mining process. Soon, Ada is tasked to take on the Baron, his minions and his four titan bosses guarding the mines in order to bring back Geodia to its original state.
That’s the whole gist of the story because after the briefing, I am given little to none memorable moments with the whimsical inhabitants of the Refuge aside from the fact that they are charmingly designed and with no in-game text reading or side quests to know more about them or the world. The story briefs you more on the planet and Sparklite only after defeating each titan and laughably only a little at the last boss fight with nothing much in between to fill in the gaps.
Graphics Sparks Joy
The pixelated goodness with a dash of retro arcade nostalgia in this game is simple, vibrant, colourful yet able to maintain a unique look for each character, wacky NPC’s, enemies and different environments. The enemies are designed distinctively enough that I am able to recognize their attack pattern, charge attacks and reactions from afar. In terms of the environment, the design is pleasant yet different from each other such as a forest, autumn forest, mines, desert and snowy fields. Each screen captures the very essence of good design elements that kept me pretty much hooked to the screen.
Here are a few screenshots of the areas players will be traversing:
Bringing Back Sounds from Arcades Past
The game previously mentions that there is a GameCube inspired soundtrack by composer Dale North (Wizard of Legend) Oh boy! I kid you not, that the game got me tapping to my feet with some of the tunes it offers. The game has an arcade feel but modernizes the retro feel of the music that suits the theme of the game really well, oddly satisfying and spot-on in different environments.
On the nitpicking side, the mines do not have a soundtrack but all the other environments have their own uplifting beat tracks so it was a rather weird choice. Other than that, the bosses music felt underwhelmingly soft or less inspiring in comparison to the games rich music environment which undermines the intensity of a boss fight. In terms of sound effects, it’s pretty spot on with every blow of the wrench, hammer smash and explosions the gadget makes. The game does falter when it comes to using other gadgets such as the Shrinkinator that is oddly silent. Here are some of the music sample masterpieces from Dale North channel himself:
Gameplay Sparks but Fails to Light the Fuse
The game is fairly simple, Ada is able to dash forward as a means of dodging, equipped with a wrench that offers a light combo attack and a charging smashing heavy (The best one-hit killer for almost everything!!) hammer slam. Dying in this game merely takes away Ada’s picked up temporary widgets while maintaining the amount of Sparklite she obtained in the play-through. Speaking of which, Widgets are limited use items/consumables that offer Ada some heals, buffs, exploding mines and even cluster bombs to boot, purchasable via the merchant using Sparklite as currency as well as upgrades or dropped randomly from fruits, treasure boxes or enemies. Gadgets use your energy bar as ammo such as a fairly underutilized bow and a remote-controlled explosive air balloon, but other gadgets were mostly used to shrink your body or dive underwater as a means of traversal which can be underwhelming considering that the usage is fairly limited in the game. Adding on, Sparklite as currency can also be used to buy patches (which can be fused) which is a permanent upgrade perk to boost Ada’s health, attack power, energy level and many more. Other than the health boost, heal widget, wrench and hammer; every other gadget and patch upgrade seemingly useful at first feels redundant later on as the later stages do not have the same puzzle elements, platforming or enemies with weaknesses to the other gadgets.
In regards to gameplay progression, it is actually surprisingly linear by dropping me off at the starting stage called Vinelands, which is a green pasture map that acts as the centrepiece of the other four direction based maps environment such as the Desert, Snow, Acid bogs and the autumn designed forest Goldenwood. Each environment is ruled by one Boss and you would need to fight them in a specific order to unlock the other environment doors. The game bogs down to just focusing on the specific directions of the maps like north, south, east, west and just head on there which may defeat the very purpose of procedural generation. Initially, the game appears pretty solid due to the ever-changing procedurally generated world but that’s only on the surface level by shuffling a few maps. After dying multiple times, you will start to recognize and guess what areas tile layout has in store for the enemy placement, loots and minor platforming. Even to the point that some caves and treasures area remains open after you return from dying which immediately hinders my exploring interest.
As you destroy a boss, he will not respawn even if you died later on; closing his mine forever in my play-through. Beside’s the last boss, I do wish that the previous bosses can return even stronger or show newer attacks due to the so-called pollution. Because once you understand their attack pattern, that’s it; you can easily squeeze them dry without dropping a sweat as they won’t alter their attacks or speed up things up even approaching death. Besides bosses, the real treat is actually the normal enemies of the game with varied designs depending on the environment they are in with different attacks and reactions, giving me somewhat a fresh challenge.
What I Liked
- Lighthearted, simple and smooth combat.
- A fair amount of fun platforming moments.
- Light loading times.
- Each Boss are uniquely large designed.
- Normal enemies comes with variant design and attacks.
- Rad and charming NPC designs.
- The pixelated art is beautiful to behold while remaining distinct enough for players to identify objects, enemies and the environment.
- Uplifting BGM soundtracks that is soothing and mechanically pleasing. The sound effects is pretty spot-on in delivering attacks, gadgets and explosive gadgets.
What I Wished Can Be Improved
- More memorable moments with the NPC’s because their design were pretty rad to begin with such as added text reading, dialogue’s, world-building and more side quests. Without this, the game is very short gameplay spanning over 4-6 hours.
- Ada using her hammer to nail down her breaking ship or a puzzle area (an interesting mechanics but rarely utilized).
- Ada doesn’t do any in-depth mechanic gameplay where she assembles the inventions herself as most of it is given schematics or ready-made by NPC’s.
- Bow gadgets are useful at the beginning for puzzle purposes. But fairly underutilized later on as the game progresses with little damage to enemies and lacking similar puzzles to shoot at.
- The safe linear gameplay design of the map underwhelms the random procedural generation in the game. Players can just navigate the maps later by either hugging onto North, South, East and West of the map depending on the game requirements.
- Boss fights can get really simple and predictable once you get a hang of it with no sense of challenge at all. On a minor note, bosses music is softer in comparison to the environment of the game, undermining the epic intensity of the boss fight.
- Some treasures remain opened even after I died and come back. It would be better to change the loot into Sparklite currency instead as means to drive players forward revisiting the area.
- No sound effects on certain gadget use such as Shrinkinator 5000 and no music in mines which can be a bummer.
- Minor nitpicking bugs found in 2 maps of the game where the main character is unable to go up the stairs or remains running uncontrollably after exiting the certain cave.
Initially, Sparklite presents fun lighthearted action, strong designed pixelated graphics and paired with addictive retro tunes which not only harkens me back to the classics but also in itself nailed a pretty decent IP. However, the game gradually dims its spark overtime due to drawbacks that may hinder the game’s core identity such as challenging bosses, redundant game progression, repetitively recognizable procedurally generation areas, lack of a real hands-on invention creations, lack of long-range gadgets usage and bringing unique NPC’s to life.
I really do hope that the developer take note and tries to further expand more aspects into the game, hitting all the right notes and not just playing it safe. Because overall, there is a small spark of potentials that I find intriguing of this game and wasted if not explored any further. In a positive light, I do hope to see more from this developer in the near future.