Developer: Red Blue Games
Release Date: November 14, 2019
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Merge Games
Rogue-lite games aren’t typically known for their ease of accessibility, but with beautiful sprites and soothing music Sparklite does a great job of introducing players to the genre while maintaining all the elements that have made the genre popular over the years.
In Sparklite you take control of Ada, a wrench wielding engineer dropped into the land of Geodia. The environment is riddled with fractures that change the landscape every time you visit it. This ends up being an excellent little narrative explanation for the game’s procedural generated mechanics.
You see, Geodia is broken into five sections, each with a main boss called Titans. After defeating each Titan, you are granted access to the next section. Each boss also unlocks a fresh new upgrade for the robot companion.
As you make your way through the ever-changing world, you will encounter Sparklite, a mineral that can be used as a currency to create and upgrade your gadgets and expand your workshops. Patches can also be found, which boost your health, defense, offense, or something specific to gadgets and your map. This makes every blade of grass, enemy, and box a prime target of your wrench to gather as much Sparklite as possible.
If you’re like me, then you will find yourself fixated on clearing a whole screen of innocent plant life to further your arsenal. Moments like these recall memories I have with The Legend of Zelda series, which Sparklite unabashedly takes several influences. From the dungeons that you explore to your Navi-like companion, and the overall aesthetic and action-adventure gameplay, you can tell the developers of Sparklite, Red Blue Games, have a deep love for the series.
A significant deviation from that series is the lack of hearts you will find to regain your health. The game expects you to die and die I did. Many, many times. When you die, you lose any item collected along with the progress you made on your map as it is no longer relevant due to the fracture changing the landscape upon your return. However, you do get to keep your gadgets, patches, upgrades, and Sparklite.
Every time you die, you are brought to the skyship called The Refuge. This is where you can spend your Sparklite on upgrading gadgets and workshops. You can also rearrange your patches in the Refuge, which can lead to a lot of variety and experimentation. I found, for most situations, a balanced Patch worked best for me, but depending on how you play, you might find your Patch arrangement looking differently. I appreciated how complex this system could be without it being overly complicated. It was easy to manage and understand. This makes it extremely accessible for newer gamers to dive into without dumbing things down for more experienced players.
If you are a real masochist and up for an insanely difficult challenge, you have the option of forgoing any upgrades, patches, and possibly gadgets at all. As for myself, when I see an item or upgrade, I’ll take it, but it’s nice that this option is here and made me realize that while the gadgets are cool and helpful, they aren’t a necessity. It’s something so subtle that I only realized this near the end of the game when I didn’t have one of the gadgets, and I could still finish it if I wanted to.
Hands down, though, my favorite part of this game is the art design. Characters and environments are represented in gorgeous vibrant pixel art. Ada’s character design is adorable and translates well to her pixel representation. Animation of characters and enemies is fluid and actually helps with gameplay. For example, enemies will typically telegraph an attack with a smooth animation, which helped me plan accordingly. And even though everything is out to kill you, most enemies do so looking relatively cute. The menu screen and gadgets all have a very pleasing aesthetic to them as well. Although not directly Steampunk, it has that sort of influence.
The music in the game is another love of mine. It is calming and melodic, all while creating a sense of atmosphere. This soundtrack will go into a playlist I’ll listen to when relaxing. While the art and music may seem innocent and laid-back, it all seems to work as a facade for how punishing challenging the game can be at times. I can see gamers drawn into the serene art style and associate it as a sense of security only to be surprised by how quickly and often they die.
This was partly my experience at the beginning of the game until I explored more and was able to get some decent upgrades. That is until the end of the game when I had all the upgrades I could acquire, but then the difficulty spikes immensely. I wish players the best of luck on the last boss. I can’t imagine how nerve-wracking this game would be if the soundtrack always set to “Super Intense.” When everything sounds relatively peaceful, it makes it a bit easier to accept when you die.
One thing that I was considering as I was playing through Sparklite was if the Rogue-lite features actually benefit the game or if it just makes it more tedious. Especially when it came to losing the map for areas where I had already beaten a Titan, I was hoping I could unlock the map of each section once each Titan was defeated. There is an option to place various maps to your patches, but it takes away from your other patches.
So for the sake of saving time, I have to sacrifice my defense, offense, or whatever other patches I could have had in place of that. I imagine the intent was to motivate exploration. Still, when I felt I had adequately explored an area, I just wanted to progress to other parts of the game without the hassle of running into procedurally generated dead ends. I think if this weren’t the case, I would have been okay with the other Rogue-lite elements of the game.
Even with the sometimes frustrating difficulty, it’s hard to stay too upset at this charming title long before diving back into it. Whether you’re a fan of the genre or are looking for an introduction into it, Sparklite provides a challenging yet whimsical experience to Rogue-lite and Action-Adventure games.
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