Sparklite is an isometric action-adventure rogue-lite developed by Red Blue Games. Previously a mobile developer, this is Red Blue’s first effort on consoles. As such, Sparklite does have some elements that make it feel like a mobile game at times, but I’ll talk more about that later.
I come away from Sparklite with conflicted feelings. The responsive combat and competent upgrade system make for a fun time, but it’s held back by some grindy mechanics that feel out of place in this Zelda–inspired title.
The Fractured World of Geodia
Sparklite begins with our protagonist and amateur mechanic Ada crash landing on the world of Geodia. After being allowed to explore for a bit, we encounter a boss fight that Ada has little hope of defeating with her current tools. After your likely demise at the hands of your enemy, Ada awakens in the game’s hub world and we learn what that whole ordeal was all about. It turns out Geodia is being exploited by resident bad guy ‘The Baron’, for personal gain. That thing we just encountered was one of his servants, and with the help of the nice folks on our new hub world, we might just have a chance at taking it down.
This is when we get into the meat of the game, and we’re introduced to various mechanics that make up Sparklite’s gameplay. For now, I want to talk about the plot and worldbuilding of Sparklite, so we’ll get into the guts of the gameplay later.
Sparklite’s story isn’t really anything special, but it manages to sell its world through visual storytelling. Each area you visit tells its own story, be it a desert full of goblins or a swamp full of venomous insects. As you find ancient vaults you learn more about how Geodia was formed, and surprise surprise: Ada is the hero destined to save it. This ham-fisted attempt at telling a generic fantasy storyline feels unnecessary, as each area tells its own story well enough on its own. The aforementioned desert area is very open, and only has walls on the edges of the map. Each room is connected, so it really feels like an open space. It makes sense that the goblins are here too, as this is the harsh environment that the Baron has recruited them from. It’s little details like this that tell Sparklite’s narrative, accompanied by a pretty catchy soundtrack.
Wait, Wasn’t I Here Before?
Sparklite’s bouncy flora and fauna match well with the upbeat music and colorful particle effects, I just wish that the art direction had a little bit more personality. Sure it’s cutesy and vibrant at times, but it’s not memorable due to its large similarity to plenty of other indie titles of recent times. Years down the line I think if you showed me a picture of Sparklite, I would have trouble differentiating it from other Zelda inspired indies of its time. I don’t find Sparklite to be an ugly game by any stretch, I just don’t find its cutesy style interesting and I’ve seen it far too many times to be wowed by it now.
Something that sticks in my mind more here is the score. As soon as the game started up I was bobbing along to it happily. The vibrant woodwind and almost sea-chanty like quality to some tracks managed to win me over pretty quickly. It fits the loud greens you’re hit with in the first area too. Unfortunately, not every environment achieves this level of synergy with the OST. Even in the bleak snowscape and barren desert where enemies are much more punishing, the music retains a happy tone which I felt conflicted with the situation I was in. Regardless, I can still see myself listening to Sparklite’s soundtrack in my free time, if I’m in the mood for something with a sense of adventure.
Sparklite has a few different ways for the player to make Ada stronger. There’s a patch system that allows you to equip a variety of buffs that increase your health or allow you to see where boss fights are on the map. You also find consumable items called widgets, which can be useful for recovering health or doing AOE damage to a group of enemies. There are also permanent items and upgrades you get, similar to Zelda. You get these from exploring hidden vaults and defeating bosses, and they’re needed to progress with the main game. I didn’t find myself using the widgets very often except to recover health, but the patch board comes in very handy and makes a real difference in your abilities. You have limited space on your board, which means you have to make sacrifices if you want certain advantages.
A big part of the game is the currency you use to pay for all of these fancy upgrades, that being Sparklite. It’s no wonder the game is named after these little blue diamonds either, as you’ll be collecting a lot of them along the way. Sparklite can be used to do a number of things like craft items you’ll need to explore optional areas, expand your patch board so you can have more buffs, or upgrading the widget shop so you have more items to choose from when you are about to head out. This is all well and good, but a lot of Sparklite’s roguelite features feel needless, which is where the game fundamentally fails.
Collecting More Sparklite
Whenever you die in Sparklite the world “fractures” and rearranges itself. The rooms you’ll enter are widely the same, but now when you get into an area they’ll be in a different order. This is what makes Sparklite a roguelite in the first place, but it ultimately suffers because of it. Most rooms just comprise of a couple of enemies, and maybe a chest or two. Occasionally you might find a spot to use one of your optional items to get more Sparklite or a patch, but there’s such a small variety of things to do that I found myself just running through areas once I had beaten them. I think Sparklite would be a lot better off with fixed level design; that way, the devs could just focus on making some great puzzles and situations for the player to get into. This isn’t a problem for full-on roguelikes like The Binding of Isaac for example, because there’s such a variety in items, room layouts, characters, and enemies that each run feels different. The simplistic design of each room and lack of reason to explore once you’ve defeated an area boss both give Sparklite that mobile game feel I was talking about earlier.
This problem becomes particularly egregious in the late game when I found myself having to grind for Sparklite in order to do decent damage to the final boss. I don’t mind having to spend a bit of time upgrading my abilities at all, but I hadn’t been doing it much so far because no boss had given me any trouble yet. The bosses each have a pretty small, but punishing move set which requires a couple of attempts to master and beat them. I played the game as normal up until the end – exploring each area fully, using my optional items, beating the area boss, and then moving on to the next area. Unfortunately, when I got to the endgame, I found myself highly lacking in resources to beat the 2nd phase of the Baron.
It feels like this difficulty curve is just here to elongate an otherwise 4-5 hours game. For reasons I mentioned earlier, grinding for Sparklite at the end just wasn’t fun, and it left a sour taste in my mouth. This is a massive shame, up until that point I could see the game’s flaws, but it hadn’t forced me to experience them over and over again.
A Bit of a Slog
Sparklite’s charming music and simple but responsive combat show that the team over at Red Blue Games has clear potential. I would love to see them make a similar title without the rogue-lite elements mixed in. Yeah, the art is a little uninspired, but I know I would have enjoyed Sparklite a lot more were it to take up less of my time. Either that or Red Blue could double down on the rogue-lite elements and include much more variety. This time around it just didn’t manage to do both.
Were it released on mobile I think I could be more forgiving, but there isn’t enough reward for your efforts in Sparklite. The lack of variety in level, enemy and visual design ends up making it into a bit of a slog.
This review is based on an Xbox One copy of the game. A review code was provided by the publisher.
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