Sparklite Review: Shipwrecked
Kalvin Martinez / Dec 23rd, 2019 No Comments
When looking at Sparklite, its influences immediately spring to mind. While those comparisons aren’t unfounded, it is more than a cocktail of its influences coupled with homages and references.
Sparklite plays against expectations in clever ways by playing its card closely and trying to go against conventions. It accomplishes this in strong story decisions and a smart roguelike-ish gameplay structure.
We’re all victims of circumstances, especially if we’re the protagonist of a video game. Ada’s life changes when her ship gets destroyed in a horrific storm, and she gets separated from her robot companion, Wingnut. She wakes up in the strange land of Geodia among the wreckage of her ship. As she searches Wingnut, she encounters odd characters and hostile creatures.
Eventually, she reunites with her companion, but the reunion is short lived because a devastating enemy wipes her out. This isn’t Ada’s end, but only the beginning. She is taken to the Refuge where she is told about the struggle in Geodia with the Baron and how his machines are causing the land below to fracture and change.
However, Ada isn’t tasked with the monumental task of stopping the Baron. Rather she is told she needs to be much stronger if she wants to defeat the Titan who left her unconscious. As a forewarning, below are spoilers for the story.
After Ada defeats the first Titan, she is revealed as being a starborn child and fated to stop the Baron. While this is a tried and true story trope for 2D action-adventure games, it doesn’t feel contrived. Rather than a wizened elder relaying this fact at the outset of her journey, a disembodied voice from far ago tells Ada she is a Starborn child. However, this only happens after she decides to embark on the journey out of interest of rescuing her companion, Wingnut.
The wrinkle is since Ada is the only one who could gain access this knowledge. It is up to Ada and Wingnut to take this information at face value or not.
The only other person in Geodia with any knowledge of the larger struggle still only knows half. When Ada returns to the Refuge after defeating the first Titan, the stoically silent stranger she meets when she first arrives, tells her about his guilt at discovering Sparklite combustion. This is how the Baron and his Titans are able to fracture Geodia and cause the creatures below to mutate and grow more hostile.
What makes the story in Sparklite compelling is the agency Ada is given to determine her role and the truth of what is happening. No one is guiding her or forcing her to do some grander narrative. The only push forward is the real danger threatening the Refuge in the face of the growing aggression from the Baron and the fractures. However, the people of the Refuge are less pushy for her to be a savior for a fated reason and more of like, “hey… if you can help that’d be dope because we don’t know what to do.”
Tools of the Trade
If you’ve ever played an older The Legend of Zelda or Secret of Mana than you’ll be intimately familiar with how Sparklite plays. She has her standard wrench attack, charged hammer attack, and a bevy of gadgets she can craft that act as ranged weapons, puzzle solving tools, and ways to traverse previously inaccessible hazards.
However, what makes it different is Ada’s mobility thanks to her rocket boots. She lacks defense but her evasive skills helps her avoid massive damage. The focus on mobility makes combat engaging and reactive forcing you to focus on avoiding potentially devastating attacks rather than stoically blocking damage.
Well…the more fleet footed gameplay isn’t the major difference. No, the major difference is Sparklite’s unfixed structure thanks to the “Fracturing” of Geodia, where the land is changed and reformed every time Ada returns from the Refuge. The only certainty is where specific areas are located: The Goldenwoods are to the east while the Vinelands are toward the south, ect.
Sparklite isn’t completely roguelike, but it has many of the elements that make completely procedural worlds so addictive. Each area has a set amount of room types and enemy placements, but how those rooms and enemies are arranged varies from run to run. This makes the gameplay unpredictable keeping you present in the combat and exploration.
In addition to Ada’s wrench-hammer and craftable gadgets, she gains access to helpful items called widgets. Widgets are found by exploring below or at a shop in the Refuge. Widgets can range from offensive weapons like a cluster of bombs that damage enemies to buffs that improve speed or health your health. Effectively managing the widgets are key to prolonging your runs.
Prolonging your runs in Geodia before a new fracture happens is important because Ada only gets stronger by using sparklite. At the outset of your journey, you’re given access to patches that you can apply to your wrench in the Refuge. This patch upgrade system is a cool progression system. It rewards players for diligently doing well in their runs as they advance the story.
By collecting more patches and upgrading those patches by combining them Ada gets stronger, but it takes a lot of sparklite to do so. Finding sparklite is key when you’re exploring Geodia. Sparklite is found when defeating enemies, opening treasure chests, or dropped from fruit bearing trees.
Staying alive and hoovering up sparklite during a run helps improve your ability to explore more of Geodia in the long run. While making Ada stronger can feel like a lot of grinding at first, it is a testament to how satisfying the combat is and how engaging exploration is that runs never feels like a grind.
Sparklite is surprising, and that comes from someone who played the demo at PAX West a few years ago. It lures you in with its adorably retro 2D charm than over delivers in terms of story and gameplay. Thanks to a combination of smart story reveals, and an addictive gameplay structure, you don’t want to put down Sparklite.
You keep coming back for more even if you’re more than able to stomp the final boss.
Sparklite was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the publisher.
tags: Merge Games , playstation 4 , Red Blue , review