Of all the great indie games out there, a large proportion have a somewhat Microsoft Paint aesthetic to them. I am, of course, paraphrasing an old Uni friend of mine. But he does have a bit of a point. They look dated.
Or, is it that they try and fill a nostalgic void in our lives left unfulfilled since the first AAA developer noticed there was a third dimension to utilise?
ABG‘s own Captain America, Lucas Richards, recently called me a hipster for liking indie games. And do you know what, yes, sometimes we want a game that looks like the earliest incarnations of Link. I know I do!
And so, it gave me great pleasure to be able to play and review Red Blue Games’…game, Sparklite.
This review was done on a code given to ABG by the publishers. Sparklite is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Spark One Up
The most immediate thing you notice about Sparklite is the aesthetic. It connotes memories of early, top-down Legend of Zelda games and the like; the protagonist [in Sparklite‘s case, Ada] fighting their way through open areas and clearing dungeons to get better equipment. If you were to put Sparklite side-by-side with any other Zelda-clone, you’d be hard-pressed to notice any glaring differences in style.
That might sound like a put-down, but it isn’t. I like that whole appeal to a game. Whilst never having played a “true” Zelda game before beyond Wind Waker, I can see the appeal. It’s something I’ve noticed a fair few indie devs (especially) like to implement in their games. I’d take the time to list some here, but I don’t want a ten million word article. Some worthy ones you might be interested in looking into, however, include;
- Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas
- Anodyne and
- (how could I not mention) Cat Quest
Each one harkens back to the beloved Nintendo series, and Sparklite is no different.
Grind My Gears
As Ada, your journey in Sparklite takes you to this amazing world called Geodia. Geodia has recently suffered from a terrible event caused by the Sparklite itself.
Oh, yeah, context. So, Sparklite is so-called because the Sparklite crystals are, quintessentially, the lifeforce of the world of Geodia. It’s used as currency as well as power/fuel for machinery. It can be mined from Geodia (which caused the “event”) as well as sourced from fallen enemies. Plus, in terms of currency, it comes in a wide array of colours that reflect it’s worth as tender, a la Rupees in Zelda.
There we go. Now we’re caught up.
So, the event that I alluded to is the cause for the entire game happening. Due to the antagonistic Baron and his want for the power Sparklite grants, he mines the world for it. Doing so is causing untold damage to Geodia and polluting it’s inhabitants; creatures are becoming feral and aggressive, and fauna is mutating into…weirder…plantlife.
Baron ≠ Ganon
The Baron’s activities have also caused another problem; the world of Geodia shifts and changes constantly. This works in-game by making randomly-generated maps each time the player lands. Whilst in other games you can memorise a map, Sparklite shifts it up by moving everything around each time you die. Which adds to the drama, if anything.
In terms of combat, Sparklite features the usual Zelda tropes; in-keeping with Ada’s mechanic status, the sword has been replaced by a wrench. You can power up your wrench with various patches. Patches can be found after special events are completed or certain criteria met. Or by simply buying choice ones from the game’s storekeepers. The patches range from a stronger attack, to more health for Ada, to a localised map for each region. Granted, you only have a select space available, which means optimisation comes a key part of successful playthroughs.
Your wrench may be your primary weapon, but it isn’t the only one available to you. Various Sparklite-powered tools become obtainable as you progress. The first one is a little crossbow that you use to shoot targets; enemies or switches. Next is a balloon-mounted rocket that Ada can guide through the air. This can be used to destroy boulders or enemies as you see fit. There are more to uncover, but I won’t ruin all of the surprised.
Seen here is the “RC Blimp”, or rocket-balloon, as I call it
However, to use one of your special gadgets, you need to use your power slots. To begin with, you only have five available. The crossbow I mentioned uses one power slot per shot, whilst the rocket-balloon uses all five. To regain your power slots, you need to attack an enemy. One power slot is recovered for every successful hit you land. So, it’s not exactly difficult to quickly recuperate your losses.
You also, fairly early on, recover Ada’s friend and robot companion. This little guy can be used as a co-op character – if you’re blessed with having friends over. In single-player, you can use the robot to uncover buried Sparklite, and more, as the game progresses.
So Far, So Zelda (Plus, like a Billion Other Indie Games). So, Why Should You Play Sparklite?
Well, Sparklite has a nice little Ace up its sleeve; it’s not just an action-RPG-lite, it’s also a rogue-like title. Yep, you probably sussed it out when I mentioned how Geodia changes constantly. You’ll return to the skycamp each time you die. Here, a team of survivors and rebels take refuge from the Baron’s assault on Geodia. You’ll find a mechanic, a salesman, a scientist, a musician, and more besides. You’ll unlock more patrons and more areas of the skycamp as you progress on the planet’s surface, each of whom offers you more items or better gear.
Then, when you’re ready to try again, you can drop back to Geodia with your improved load-out and get further. Or die trying, either way. It’s a great way for Sparklite to differentiate itself from other contemporaries. However, it did lead to my biggest gripe with my copy of the game, which I’ll get to shortly.
The musical score is…intriguing. I flip-flop between wanting to add the soundtrack to my Spotify and gouge my ears until they bled [though that could have had something to do with my other issue with the game]. There’s an almost chiptune quality to the music, something that adds to the nostalgia overdose Sparklite connotes. At times, it can be annoying, especially when you have headphones plugged in and turned all the way up. I wouldn’t say anything needs to be changed about any of the audio, necessarily. And, if you find any of the audio does grate on you, simply turn the volume down, I suppose.
This is Boris, the first boss you encounter
That’s almost all of the main content I wanted to cover for the game out of the way. I will note, however, that whilst the main world’s creatures are relatively easy to defeat, even in the game’s opening moments. The problem comes when you get to the bosses. The Baron’s handpicked henchmen in souped-up, over-powered machines. The Titans. Each one is in charge of a different aspect of gathering natural resources – the first one is a mining machine, the second one is a wood-cutter, you get the picture. The problem is that these bosses have a massive difficulty spike to them. Even using Ada’s jump-dash to get out of harm’s way doesn’t result in you leaving a fight unscathed. It’s a gentle gripe, but one that I should mention. It also leads me on nicely to my personal biggest issue with the game.
My Final Thoughts…
Now, I’m not saying this will happen to you. Lord knows I’ve played the game on my phone using xCloud before now and the problem didn’t occur. Whilst I was playing the review copy, every now and then, my game would freeze altogether and then crash. No warning, it just froze. This wouldn’t necessarily be as big a problem is Sparklite didn’t require you to source enough Sparklite to build the next upgrade to Ada’s equipment. There was no specific trigger for the freezing either, so it’s not like I could time it and plan my playthrough accordingly.
This bug was a real deal-breaker, to be honest with you. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Sparklite. Honestly, it’s one of the best games I’ve had the chance to review in a long time. However, I can’t, in good consciousness, score the game higher based on such a game-breaking issue. As I’ve mentioned, there’s no guarantee the issue will happen to you. And it never occurred whilst I was playing Sparklite on my phone. But, on my Xbox One, for no given reason and without warning, Sparklite decided it needed a lie-down. Maybe ‘Rona has reached Geodia.
Sparklite gets a hard; 6/10
The long and short of it, Sparklite, or at least my experience with it, scores a 6/10. Which is a real shame, because despite the glitch, it’s one helluva game! It has everything a good indie game should do; a good narrative, a host of amusing characters, easy to grasp gameplay mechanics, and a tried-and-tested genre. IF my copy didn’t glitch out as often as it did, the game would easily be an 8/10, maybe even verging on a 9/10!
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Sparklite Xbox One Review
- Overall - 6/106/10
Sparklite; at a glance
Reminiscent of those days where Link was the poster boy (elf) of RPG adventures
More enjoyable than it has any right to be
Beautifully crafted world
A unique gameplay mechanic in an otherwise over-saturated genre
Simple gameplay mechanics to grasp, especially for “seasoned” players
The rouge-like elements can hinder your progression IF you happen to encounter the aforementioned game-freezing bugs
Difficulty spikes come out of nowhere for bosses
Audio can be a bit hit or miss depending on your volume/tolerance for chiptune
Obviously, for me, the bug tainted my overall experience of the game
NB: Please note; this bug may not affect your gameplay, and I would not let this put you off playing it. It really is a blemish on an otherwise perfect indie gem, albeit, a blemish I could not overlook in my review.