Sparklite is a classic top-down action-adventure that treads familiar ground in a way that is bound to please Legend of Zelda fans. It’s not a Zelda clone at all, which is what I initially took it for, but it has a colourful and cute charm that took me back to my GameBoy days. It doesn’t have the narrative depth or functionality as some other 2D action-adventures but it does enough things perfectly well that I fell in love with Sparklite and the land of Geodia. If it wasn’t for a few technical hiccups and its short playtime it could have easily been a contender for Game of the Year. If there’s one indie game you missed in 2019 I encourage you to start 2020 off right and buy Sparklite.
In Sparklite you play as Ada, a young girl who has a robot sidekick and a flying ship. During a storm your ship is damaged and you crash-land on Geodia. It’s here where you learn the basics in what can only be described as the most perfect tutorial I have ever played. It doesn’t feel like a vertical slice of introductory play, and it fits seamlessly into the rest of the game. It’s not long before you’re teased with your first boss encounter where (if you’re anything like me) you’ll die and be whisked off to the safety of the Refuge, a Sparklite-powered floating haven. The inhabitants of the Refuge task you with bringing down the Baron, who’s over-mining has corrupted the land and turned the animals into devilish creatures.
Sparklite might seem typical of its kind due to the basic premise of bashing monsters on the head until you inevitably reach a boss encounter but there were three things that set Sparklite apart for me: Exploration, the Patch Board and the NPCs.
Every time you return to Geodia from the Refuge the map looks different. This is explained away as the crust of the planet shifting into new formations due to the disruptive actions of the Baron but it’s just a way of procedurally generating the map to keep it from feeling less predictable and to encourage exploration. This was an excellent design choice because the map is fairly small and wouldn’t be difficult to remember, and if you could easily remember the map it would make the mapmaking siblings that you have to save redundant.
I love a bit of resource-management and Sparklite offers it up in the form of the Patch Board. This is where you plug Patches to upgrade your health, strength and power-ups. You can stack Patches so with enough Sparklite you can minimise the use of space but it’s important to know the Patch Board isn’t very big. Jiggling pieces about to make everything I needed to fit on the Patch Board was fun, and upgrading Ada’s Patches was worth the tiny grind the game demands from you. There’s a sense of achievement that comes when you fully maximise the space.
All of the NPCs are memorable and come installed with their own barrel of charm. Each character brings the world of Geodia to life. There aren’t many characters but they’re all so different they pack their own punch. The NPCs are one of the reasons it reminds me of Legend of Zelda so much. They all play their own role in helping Ada beat the Baron and living on the Refuge with them really does feel like they’re family.
Like I mentioned in the intro, there were a few technical hiccups that ruined my experience. There were some atrocious audio bugs during loading screens which would have blew out my eardrums if I were wearing headphones (luckily, I don’t use ‘em because I’m a filthy pedestrian gamer). During one of my attempts at beating the final boss Ada got stuck at the edge of the playing field and all I could do was face death in the eye and restart the encounter.
Another tiny issue I had was how underused the hammer tool was. The tutorial teaches you to charge up your wrench to convert it into a hammer that deals a powerful blow but besides nailing down a few nails (obviously) I never used it.
Besides those minor digs though, I adored Sparklite. It’s a very, very, veeery short campaign but it’s one of those little gems that has to be played. Like I said, it doesn’t re-invent the wheel but it does take you for a joyous ride.
Should you play it? Yes
Why… It’s an almost perfect game. Sure, it’s a little paint-by-numbers on the surface, and there’s not a great deal to do in its short run-time. But it’s fun, adorable, well polished, easy to wrap your head around and an absolute delight to play.
But… It’s a short game with some underused mechanics and gadgets. When all is said and done, it feels like Sparklite has more to offer but unfortunately we’re only able to scratch the surface.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4. Review code supplied by Red Blue Games.