Sparklite is a tale from time immemorial in the world of action RPGs. An evildoer, self-titled the “Baron,” has decided to mine the world of a precious resource known as “Sparklite.” As expected, this results in hazardous side effects, such as pollution, corrupted wildlife, and a grindy RPG. Fortunately, Ada’s got her wrench and hammer in tow to clean the bogs, thwart the enemies, and quickly dispose of the tired affair altogether.
Our heroine crash-lands in this, until recently, hopeless hellscape. A floating landmass serves as the last vestige of humanity where greed and corruption reign supreme — and where Ada conveniently wakes up when she inevitably falters in her excursion time and time again. Here, she meets various NPCs whose personalities lack about as much depth as the combat. Nothing lies beneath the surface in Sparklite, much like the cold heart of the Baron. I guess.
If you’ve played most of the sprite-based Legend of Zelda games, you’ve played Sparklite. Combat flows in top-down fashion with Ada swinging her wrench or charging up an attack to pound with her hammer. Some gadgets can be retrieved and crafted that allow her to do various ranged attacks. Small item pickups allow her to lay bombs or shoot bursts of energy in all directions around her, but these cantrips take so long to use and lack any meaningful power that they’re more idle curiosities at the outset that end up disappointing.
What’s worse, combat involves a dodging mechanic that can effectively save Ada from danger but leaves her with such delay and lack of distance that some enemy attacks are frustratingly difficult to slide away from. To help remedy these frustrations, Sparklite offers patches in moderation that Ada can equip in town to reduce damage taken, increase damage dealt, improve health, or provide special side effects, like shorter charge times and maps.
Some players may find map patches a boon, as Sparklite has a procedurally generated map. What this means is that every time Ada gets knocked out and returns to town, the map is almost entirely new. I say “almost” because some fixtures remain the same, such as certain advanced areas lying to the north, east, south, or west of the starting location. In order to earn the aforementioned patches, players typically have to enter dungeons scattered around the map, with some being permanently solved and others refreshing so that additional patches may be earned. Unfortunately, little is “refreshing” about these dungeons, as the various rooms are either mindlessly simple puzzles where switches must be pressed or full of simple foes to smack.
If I’m to be fair, the combat isn’t entirely poor; it follows a tried-and-true formula of press button, kill enemy. The downside to this is that we’ve seen this before. A lot. A lot. Sparklite doesn’t bring anything new to the table, which is its primary downfall. I recently reviewed Cat Quest II, and that’s actually a similar game in terms of combat, but it does enough differently from most action RPGs that it’s tolerable. Sparklite doesn’t, though, and what it does copy — such as the dodging mechanic — is needlessly frustrating and results in annoying deaths. On the other hand, deaths are required to return to town and spend currency, so maybe this is just the game’s way of saying, “Enough grinding, get back to town and upgrade numbers so you can do it all over again.” Terrific.
In the beginning, Sparklite feels like a chore and almost every enemy is a slog. I wondered how I was ever going to beat this seven-hour adventure. Oddly enough, I grabbed a couple of patches that were thrust upon me for earning collectibles, and that made the whole thing way too easy. So Sparklite went from way too difficult for the wrong reasons to equally simple for entirely different wrong reasons.
What I enjoyed about this game, though, was the music and visuals. The developers truly nailed the 16- and 32-bit music, especially in the various explorable areas. To be completely honest, this is probably some of the best retro music I’ve heard in a new title in years. Retro visuals complement the music with fun, bouncing cartoony aesthetics. I love the art direction and wish the game design matched the work put into the presentation.
I don’t derive pleasure from admonishing Sparklite, especially when it expertly establishes a fun, lighthearted vibe, but in this era, games need to do more — and do it better. What especially perplexes me is that it’s labeled as having co-op gameplay, but the second player’s only ability is to drive a drone around and dig up holes that don’t offer a whole lot in terms of treasure. The whole affair felt either rushed or like a product borne from a lack of experience. While the game is not without merit, I definitely can’t recommend Sparklite to anyone.