Call me crazy, but Sparklite ($24.99) does what it does so well that I thought I was playing an improved sequel to something. Granted, some bits are a tad maddening (such as using the fussy balloon powered bombs, some harsh difficulty spikes, the rogue-like structure can make some bad runs worse, and yes, a few things need patching), but despite these issues, it a fun game that comes recommended. It’s still a joyful game to play even with the flaws, with a chunk of the Legend of Zelda series as its main inspiration. Visually, I saw a tiny bit of a Beyond Oasis aesthetic, and a even little of Digital Sun’s fantastic Moonlighter (even though it’s a very different game, it feels like it shares some elements) but maybe I’m just Ancient (and know so many bad game-related puns most won’t get unless explained).
Anyway, it’s a game where exploring the sometimes daunting maps is really exciting once you upgrade the shops in town. As you acquire and improve better gear (shades of Kemco’s Asdivine Hearts games, item slots and gems of assorted sizes come into play), it’s thrilling to go back to each time. Playing as Ada, you’re tasked with restoring a world called Geodia were things are literally falling apart (thus, the random nature of its maps) when too much Sparklite gathering has put her planet in danger. That said, Sparklite is also the currency that drives the upgrading, as does finding and creating a number of cool tools Ada uses in her adventuring.
The rogue-like structure means developer Red Blue Games chose to institute a KO-based system where poor Ada gets hooked back to base, losing any acquired items (she keeps gathered Sparklite, though). As far As I saw, enemies and objects in the maps offer no healing when whacked save for the temporary use item that drops randomly. So you have to approach early combat with a bit of trepidation until you see how enemies react. You can run by them if you like (if there’s room) or engage them directly (or indirectly once you get ranged weapons). Ada will get knocked out quite a lot here, but a few store-bought items, patches, and found plans later, she’ll go back into action as a better fighter… well, at least until the game rolls up some random level or hard to dispatch boss.
Progression here is key and fun as Ada grows in skill. New areas monsters and side missions open up, you expand the little flying village as you go (it’s satisfying to see it open up as you go), and a lot of the upgrades make things quite interesting in that “no two people will play exactly the same Ada” manner. There’s a co-op mode that unlocks after beating the first boss (he’s an unbeatable pain in the neck until you have proper gear), but it’s more of a Player One being Ada and Player Two being the robot sidekick who collects stuff thing (which, by the way, is fine for getting young kids or non-gamer types reeled in). Also, that soundtrack is pure love and memorable enough to make me want to snap it up as a physical disc at some point. Somebody give composer Dale North an award or a dozen or something, I say.
All of the gadgets, Patches and Widgets come in handy, but man… those balloon driven bombs (cue explosion sound). I’ll say that they’re effective… but a total bear to control if there are corners and curves to navigate. I did the dungeon to get the plans for it (like everything else, it appears randomly) and used then a few times afterwards when I had time and patience. But thank goodness they’re unlimited and Ada takes no damage from them, is all I’ll say. Environments are beautiful in their simplicity and hold a few nice surprises. The mini-game with the fake studio audience is great (I still can’t believe the developer slid in a Monty Hall reference – I was absolutely cracking up at this), as is the need to find the little hidden songbirds and the pair of adventures separated from each other when they get lost during the game.
Some of the fractured underground dungeons are painful surprises to uncover because for completion freaks, you’ll likely not have the proper Widgets or gear needed to successfully complete them the first time and the game doesn’t allow for back to base transit so you can try anew. That said, once you do run into those areas properly geared up, some brain-teasing moments await that are quite satisfying when you finally get stuff you can use. The world recycles areas enough that those first maps you stumble into come up eventually the longer you play.
Speaking of playing longer, Sparklite is an evergreen in a way because it hooks you in for hours at a time (and each time Ada gets the hook, ha!) and keeps you going, multiple KO’s aside. If there is a follow up, it’s surely in good hands, as the developer has made quite the stellar experience well worth playing. Go get it – adventure awaits on your (modern) platform of choice. Red Blue Games and publisher Merge Games have a sleeper on their hands that’ll wake you up for sure.
Score: A (95%)
-Review code provided by the developer