Diamond in the Rough
I don’t know if it’s something that’s become ingrained in me over years of gaming or something to do with having a heightened sense of situational awareness instilled in me during my years of military work (maybe a bit of both), but I notice patterns pretty frequently now. Even minute things such as people doing the same things on a consistent basis or daily routines they do, it all sticks out a lot more. This extends back to gaming, of course, in that I notice that indie gaming as a whole tends to stick to specific genres of games. Most commonly, I see Metroidvanias, Farm sims, and “Ironic” Simulators at the forefront of a fair number of Indie studio’s repertoire of productions. Rogue-likes (or Rogue-lites depending on the game) are a popular choice as well, and Red Blue Game’s Sparklite fits into the Rogue-lite genre very nicely, with a touch of some Legend of Zelda type flavoring to sweeten it up – to great effect.
Set on the world of Geodia, Sparklite shows players the game’s world is under siege by the evil Baron. He and his minions are wreaking havoc on the world below, fracturing it and warping the planet constantly in search of precious energy stones called Sparklite. The last few survivors of the lands took to the skies to seek refuge from the chaos beneath them. Players find themselves in the role of Ada, a young inventor exploring the world in her airship with her mechanical buddy/assistant. Almost immediately, Ada finds her ship destroyed and exploring the fractured wilderness on her own. Encountering one of the Baron’s monstrous titans sees Ada quickly overpowered and defeated, but she is fortunately rescued by one of the survivor settlements in the sky, The Refuge, and this is where Sparklite’s main game begins.
Sing Me the Song of Your People
The Refuge is home to a plethora of shops and workbenches, and also a place for the “Beats” you find to call home.
Much like any rogue-lite type game, Sparklite’s core gameplay loop revolves around adventuring out from your central hub and exploring the world below. Due to the “fractures” that affect the world of Geodia, each time you journey down from the sky the map changes. So, no two runs are exactly alike. This core gameplay element provides a neat twist on the largely evident Legend of Zelda influence. While exploring the world below, Ada will encounter both the Baron’s impish minions as well as other natural monsters inhabiting each of Geodia’s regions you visit. In addition to the overworld map, Ada will come across dungeons and tombs she can explore for both items and Sparklite, as well as new inventions she can reverse engineer to make new weapons for her to utilize. Aside from her trusty wrench she can use to whack baddies, she can find items such as remote-controlled air bombs, mines, ranged weapons, and many more to help defeat enemies and solve environmental puzzles.
Dungeons and Tombs in each of Sparklite’s overworlds hold valuable items and tools for Ada to find.
Also integral to the game is the upgrade system. Back in the Refuge are other inhabitants running shops and other services Ada can utilize to help her on her quest. These shops offer items and “patches” Ada can make to increase her damage, life, defense, or even show key locations of items and bosses on the ever-changing map. The shops themselves can be upgraded, leading to more items and services available. These upgrades all take Sparklite, so Ada will need quite a lot to make the most of her journey. This is where one of Sparklite’s flaws shows itself – There is almost too much of a reliance on Sparklite in the game, so players will find themselves grinding quite a lot.
Death is typically the one thing you want to avoid in Rogue-type games, as that typically means you lose everything you’ve acquired up to that point. Not in Sparklite, though. Death here means you drop all items you’ve collected, but you still keep all the Sparklite you acquired, meaning you still get to upgrade yourself or shops as you can afford. Once you’re set, you can attempt the randomly generated world again; this time more powered up. Though this does effectively make the game easier, the grind is still there and for those more accustomed to rogue-type games this takes away from the overall challenge. Additionally, the game itself is fairly short. Experienced players will find themselves completing Sparklite in around 3 to 4 hours, though there are diversions such as finding hidden “Beats” to pad things out a bit if you wish.
Each of Sparklite’s Titan bosses can range from too easy to overly difficult.
Speaking of challenge, enemy and boss challenges can wildly fluctuate. Most enemies on the overworld are easy enough to take on after deciphering their attack patterns, but the Titan bosses (and even the final boss) can either be wildly difficult, be damage sponges, or both if they’re not too easy. The encounters themselves are neat, and the boss sprites are impressively designed and fit the overall 16-bit aesthetic well, but experiencing the inconsistency in Sparklite’s difficulty soured my opinion of the game a little bit.
That’s not to say the game is awful or anything, Sparklite is far from it in fact. I was charmed by the overall aesthetic of the game. The 16-bit inspired graphics are bright, colorful, and nicely animated. The sprite designs and general environments are also wonderful to look at. It’s clear to see a lot of love went into designing it. The patch system itself is pretty neat and inspires a lot of tinkering to get the most out of Ada’s skillset. The soundtrack by Dale North is very relaxing and easy on the ears too. Light and gentle accordion and string ensembles make each run through the overworld more relaxing to do, while the more intense compositions of Titan fights really up the ante for the more difficult encounters of the game. They’re not Falcom Sound Team tier compositions by any means, but Sparklite still has a wonderful soundtrack nonetheless.
Despite some challenge and balance issues that Red Blue Games can hopefully adjust in the near future, Sparklite is overall a nicely designed game that should definitely fit into a number of gamer’s range of interests. If you like The Legend of Zelda, Rogue-likes, Rogue-lites, or just adventure games in general, this should be a nice addition to your library. The experience may end up being a little short depending on your skillset, but it should prove to be a pretty and relaxing one for the most part. Red Blue Games put a lot of work into Sparklite, and it definitely shows through despite a couple minor to moderate issues. I’d heartily recommend giving this one a chance.
Final Verdict: 3.5 / 5
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Switch, Xbox One, PC, Mac; Publisher: Merge Games, Maple Whispering Limited; Developer: Red Blue Games; Release Date: November 14th, 2019; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Up; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PS4 review copy of Sparklite provided to HeyPoorPlayer by the Publisher.