Sparklite (Switch) Review
Sparklite is an under-the-radar little roguelike with a lot to prove. We’ve seen some great procedurally generated games recently, so there’s stiff competition against hardcore titles like Dead Cells or Cadence of Hyrule. Sparklite takes things in a slightly different direction though, and seems to be all the better for it.
Sparklite kicks off with your ship crash landing in unfamiliar territory. You’re left with just your wits and your trusty wrench (your main weapon for the entire game!) This is Geodia, where everything circulates around the titular Sparklite – essentially energy rocks in the ground. This is your currency, energy, and the main resource that big boss the Baron and his mining operations are stealing, threatening to destroy the world you’re walking. That last bit you find out the hard way, as you’ll encounter the first boss, a big spiky wrecking ball, straight away and probably immediately die. But not to worry! The Refuge, a flying town, will save you and get you up to speed. The Refuge is your main hub, where you’ll be able to prepare to go back down to the ground by upgrading your starting items. And so once you’re here, the best thing to do is go back down and try again.
That’s essentially the structure for the rest of the game. Your goals, aside from taking down the bosses in each of the 5 areas, are to collect currency and loot to take back to The Refuge for upgrades. This loot can be ‘patches’ – bonuses for your wrench that give you extra damage, more health, or various other benefits – or blueprints for new secondary weapons that you can construct at home base and take with you on future runs. You’re encouraged to push forward, as the only thing you lose on death is any consumables you were carrying.
All your currency can go towards unlocking more starter items, or increasing the number of patches your wrench can hold. It’s an addictive loop, as you’d want in a game like this, and it’s helped along by the world shifting due to earthquakes between each run, so every round is lightly procedurally generated. This isn’t a ‘true’ procedural generation, but rather individual ‘rooms’ that are laid out differently every time you start. It’s not bad, and it allows everything to feel a little more cohesive and designed, but after a few runs you’ll have seen pretty much every room design in the first area. Even with 5 areas of varying aesthetics (desert, tundra, forest etc) they all have the same basic features and special rooms, so exploration can get a little less interesting once you’ve worked it out.
What is great though is the enemy variety. Each zone has its own set of unique enemies and you’ll need to adjust your tactics to match them – the straightforward swordfighting Gremlins and little slime blobs of the Hyrule-fields-esque Vinelands are easy to handle but the big sand golems in the later desert region use a ground-smashing attack that annihilated me a few times in a row. You’ll need upgrades and you’ll need to learn how to manage each situation, plus all those enemies help you build strategies for the bosses in each zone. You can actually run straight through every screen and just book it for the boss if you want, but you’ll find yourself underfunded and underprepared – but it’s not impossible. There’s great speedrun potential here, but there’s also great incentive for spending some time exploring and learning. Difficulty definitely scales well through the zones, and it keeps a reasonable balance between not-hard-enough and too-hard, with the exception of the bosses which pivoted wildly between extremes. The third area boss I beat first try without much effort, while the fourth boss exploded my poor squishy body repeatedly. Whoops.
I think what elevates Sparklite a lot though is its thoroughly charming world and design work. The monsters and various NPCs you meet are delightfully animated and full of personality, and the various zones have a distinct and interesting vibe and aesthetic. There’s even jokes – my favourite was Monty’s Haul, a mini game show room where you… solve the Monty Hall problem. The layout style and general design definitely owes a lot to Zelda, but not in a way that feels derivative – just lots of subtle homage that brings to mind happy times with games like A Link To The Past. I think avoiding a heavy or self-important tone was also an important move, as it removes any sense of intimidation to your exploring – I always feel like I’ve got the carrot and not the stick, so to speak. You never really ‘die’, you’re just picked up and returned to The Refuge, and penalties are small so I avoided that sense of frustration that I often get with a tough roguelike (and came nowhere near the abject despair that repeated failed runs can bring).
In the press for the game, the developers talked about how games they only played while travelling, and how they wanted to make a game you could properly do that with. They definitely got there – you’re not going to feel out of practice if you leave Sparklite for a rainy day, as the easy-to-learn, hard-to-master mechanics and the inviting mood will always be around for you to pick up again.
What I most loved about Sparklite was how friendly it feels. While that’s partly due to the lighthearted adventure atmosphere, I think it’s the straightforwardness of the mechanics that really grab me. You’re not asked to navigate any complex systems or optimise your reaction times, you’re just getting in there and having some fun, without having to feel patronised or like things have been dumbed down. There’s definitely room in roguelikes for some chilled out fun, and while Sparklite isn’t perfect, that’s exactly what I had.
+ Lighthearted atmosphere
+ Simple mechanics
+ Enemy variety
- Can feel repetitive
- A little unbalanced