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Sparklite (Switch) artwork

Sparklite (Switch) review

"The elephant in the room"

Procedural generation. Rogue-like. They're phrases that cause some to instantly turn away, screaming in rage, while others fume that such kneejerk reactions are unfair. And Sparklite does, indeed, have a randomly generated world map that resets each time you die. Personally, I wasn't frightened of it, but nor did I relish the thought of it. And now, after I have experienced it for myself, my only question is: why? What was the point of it to begin with?

Sparklite itself is a top-down action-y game with obvious Zelda inspirations, but fortunately not to the point of being a clone. Your character, Ada, wields a wrench like a sword (or a hammer if you hold the attack button down), as well as the ability to do a quick dash (y'know, the kind that's all the rage with videogame characters these days). As you explore the grid-like world (like the original Zelda, there's no scrolling until you reach the edge of a screen, at which point the whole screen scrolls past), you'll come across certain pieces of equipment that you can reverse engineer and later craft, like a crossbow or the ability to swim or whatever. You'll also find consumable widgets such as a time bomb or health regeneration or ability to light up a room, and you'll find patches. These patches (mostly health, defense, or offense) can be placed on your gizmo for bonuses, but there's only a limited amount of space in the gizmo. But don't worry! Combine 2 bronze patches (eg, 1/4 heart upgrades) to make a silver (1/2 heart) patch, or two silvers to make a gold (full heart) patch to increase your bonuses and save space.

So what do you do? Set up your patches at the hub world. Then go down to the ground and explore the world, with one central region that connects to four others (each locked behind an item, of course). In each region, there's a shrine that shows you the aforementioned equipment you can reverse engineer, a boss cave you must defeat to earn the ability to reach the next region, and a mine with random floors on it and a special patch as the prize. Those are your main goals, with the sub-goal getting the permanent patches or the temporary widgets (you lose them all if you die), both of which are also scattered throughout the regions and occasionally requiring the shrine equipment to obtain. You can also grab this game's collectibles called Beats, interact with a few random NPCs (usually for patches), and collect the game's currency known as sparklite. And then, when you die or complete a boss, you can go back to the hubworld and use your sparklite to build new equipment, fuse or buy patches, or purchase other upgrades.

Sparklite (Switch) image

And lets give the game credit. It looks pretty and colorful, the dash feels good, there's a reasonable variety of enemies, and wrench combat ain't bad. Couple that with exploring in a Zelda-like environment, and what could go wrong?

Procedural generation.

Think about it: what are the advantages of this system? You can create a NES-like game philosophy of high challenge forcing multiple replays without the replays being stale. You can have random elements come together in unique and interesting ways. You can offer endless customization through a variety of equipment and upgrades, with the knowledge that the player won't see all of them in a single run. You can maximize replayability by making each game feel different. So it's not that random levels are a bad thing. But none of these advantages exist here. The game really isn't that challenging, although admittedly you may die some early on before you get patches. But that's just it: once you start building up your health and defense and offense, the game doesn't scale much with you. Random elements coming together? Due to each screen being discrete (and I believe each discrete screen is hand made and not random), there is no "elements coming together" aspect in the slightest. It's just grabbing some of the pieces and shuffling them around. The customization isn't there: patches are all the same and are just upgrades, not changing the style of play or anything, while the widgets are all mostly useless in combat and thus also don't make the game feel any different either. And ultimately, with the same sequence in obtaining upgrades, and the same sequence in making your way through the world, there is no great sense of replayability, other than perhaps challenging yourself to do so with fewer upgrades. But note that that doesn't require any random generation; you can do that with Zelda or any other game of this sort.

So why the procedural generation here? What's the benefit? That's the sad part, I can't think of any. You've got a tile/sprite based map generation; you can make new rooms with relatively little effort. It's a grid layout; you don't have to work too hard to get the rooms to connect. So it can't just be a lack of time or development resources. Perhaps the design choice is to keep the maps small so that you can get to the bosses quickly? Perhaps, but I LIKE wandering around an overworld. Since the game isn't that hard, you don't expect too many deaths and repeats of walking in areas you've already done, and the game warps you back to the hub after defeating a boss so you don't have to worry about a lengthy march after your victory. So even that one minor possible advantage feels irrelevent.

And then, as you start to ponder this, you start to realize other problems with the game. It's really short (only 4 normal bosses + final battle). The alternate weapons are practically useless. The bosses have generally easy patterns, but are massive HP sponges (and the last battle being absolutely ludicrous with the number of swings you'll need). Oh, and the "reverse engineering" mechanic, where you see new equipment, but can't use it until you go back to the hub, often means that you'll pass by treasure chests that you can't get to and will never see again. After all, if the game is easy enough that you'll defeat the boss in a region on your first run, why would you ever go back there? And even if you did, because of the random map, the chest will probably be gone next time, and you have to wait 2 or 3 more times before it reappears again. While the hub initially promises excitement, it turns out to be rather basic and stripped down to its roots. Upgrade a few slots for obvious reasons, and that's about all you can do.

And to think I was enjoying this game when I first started playing it! The base game is promising, but the design decisions surrounding it are simply befuddling. I mean, the random mines are ok, but there's no preamble dungeon to the boss and only a minor one for the shrines. It just ends up being such an empty game. Why couldn't there be a grand overworld that's exciting to explore and worthy caves of danger and mystery? Why couldn't my upgrades mean something more? Why should I even bother exploring this overworld if it's just going to disappear next time around?

I wish I could recommend this game; I wish I could say it was the Zelda-inspired classic I was looking for. The promise of the bright, pastel graphics, the gridlike overworld, the speed and fluidity of the action, it all seemed so right. But sadly, the developers chose to go for a simple randomly generated world but failed to provide any advantage to support that world. Nor did they add anything else to help make the game more exciting. And they wrapped it all up in a fairly expensive package for this sort of game. I enjoy Zelda randomizers well enough; I think a rogue-like Zelda game COULD work. But it needs something more than what Sparklite has to offer.

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (March 09, 2020)

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