Subdued Sparkle

HIGH Delightful visuals.

LOW An abrupt ending.

WTF Why is the co-op so unbalanced?

The beautiful world of Geodia has been torn asunder.  The Baron has decided to exploit its sparklite — a metal that can be used for clean energy or to power horrendous mechanized monstrosities.  The land has been ruined and the wildlife has been corrupted into vicious beasts in search of victims. 

Enter Ada, a mechanic who wants to restore the beauty of the world and free Geodia from the Baron’s evil influence.  She and her allies make use of sparklite-powered gadgets to defend themselves while trying to destroy the dig sites threatening each of the planet’s five biomes. 

Ada explores the world from a top-down/three-quarters perspective reminiscent of early Legend of Zelda titles.  Ada is controlled with the left thumbstick while face buttons are used to perform attacks or dash moves.  A sub-screen allows Ada to equip alternate weapons and consult a map that fills in as she explores.  Later upgrades allow players to know the location of dig sites and other points of interest before heading into each biome. 

The biomes are procedurally generated, so each run is somewhat different, essentially making this a roguelite, although boss completion and some plot centered actions and items remain consistent between attempts.  The story reason given for the randomized maps is that Geodia itself is fighting back against the Baron by altering its landscape through the power of Sparklite. I like that the rationalization for this design was incorporated into the lore, allowing for a bit more suspension of disbelief. 

Sparklite is lovely to see in action.  The biomes and enemies are diverse, and the characters have personalities that leap off the screen with colorful sprite work and detailed animations.  Even as I was approaching the endgame, I found myself wandering through all five environments just because I wanted to spend a bit more time in this fantastic world. 

Unfortunately, as pretty as it is, it doesn’t take long before a player will have seen everything Sparklite has to offer.  Despite the procedural generation, specific rooms spawn enemies and puzzles in the same locations.  This, coupled with a strange difficulty curve means that it’s brutally difficult the first few times, and then the player will likely be tremendously overpowered for subsequent levels and bosses. I have no issue with a situation like that in general, but those hoping for a consistent challenge throughout would do well to search elsewhere. 

Putting the difficulty curve aside, the combat is fast and Ada controls well.  Enemies have varied weaknesses and attacks that keep players guessing, and Sparklite‘s puzzles range from simply maneuvering through darkened areas to things like brief fetchquests or switch-flipping.  It’s all solid enough, but what sets Sparklite apart is Wingnut, Ada’s robotic companion. 

Wingnut is remote controlled and performs several functions like gathering hard-to-reach resources, digging up buried goodies, lighting Ada’s way with flares, and ‘cleaning’ areas using a vacuum-type ability.  As Ada is vulnerable to attack while controlling Wingnut, it’s usually better to deploy the robot once fighting is done on a particular screen.

Once Ada collects some of the numerous powerups, she can equip them back at home base via a rudimentary inventory ‘roulette’ to fit her powers onto a grid.  While the grid can be expanded by spending sparklite on it, it’s never possible to equip everything at once, so one must consider risk vs reward when assigning gear. Gear can also be upgraded to customize Ada’s loadout and maximize the amount of life, energy, armor, or attack power she can wield. Players who don’t mind grinding will rocket to the top of the power curve.

Unfortunately, the narrative ends rather abruptly.  While it does provide a sense of closure to the proceedings, I would have preferred something more, and at least some sort of victory lap where I could talk to all my allies one more time.

Besides the traditional campaign, Sparklite offers local co-op, which is a nice idea in theory.  In it, one player controls Ada and the second controls Wingnut.  Unfortunately, Ada gets to enjoy attacking monsters and solving the majority of the puzzles while Wingnut is mostly in charge of picking up Sparklite, cleaning up sludge deposits.  In general there’s little for player two to do, which will probably lead to siblings fighting over who gets to do what.

Sparklite is probably best suited for younger players and those looking for a delightful (if somewhat insubstantial) romp through a gorgeous world.  It probably won’t be something I look back fondly on in a few years, but it’s entertaining and whimsical enough to be worth a purchase.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Red Blue Games and published by Merge Games.  It is currently available on PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.  This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4.  Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed3 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E,and contains Fantasy Violence. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is an action-adventure/role-playing game in which players explore a whimsical world while battling foes. From a top-down perspective, players roam environments and use swords and blasters to battle various monsters (e.g., mud squids, rhino-like soldiers, titans, rock turtles). Screen-shaking effects occur when enemies are struck; enemies generally burst into crystals or puffs of smoke when defeated. Boss battles depict more protracted combat.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers:  All audio cues are accompanied by visual cues.  All dialogue is text-based.  There are no options to resize or change the font color of the subtitles.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. This game does not offer a controller diagram, but movement is on the left stick. Square is attacking with the main weapon. X is dashing.  Triangle and circle use alternate tools/weapons.  L1 uses a limited supply gadget.  Pushing the touchpad calls up inventory/map/gadget sub screens (switch back and forth with L1 and R1).  R1 controls Wingnut, the robot companion.  While controlling Wingnut:  Square operated the Muck Buster.  X operated the Claw Digger. Circle launches Flare Bangs.

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