I love roguelike games, something I can pick up and play for an hour or two at a time as I grind until I die so I can buy new enhancements and try it all over again. The problem is, they’re one of the most addictive genres I’ve ever played as they’re like Pringles to me – once I pop, I just can’t stop! I may only intend to play for an hour yet I’ll usually still be there four or five hours later as I perform “just one more run”. The latest game I’ve played which held me against my will was Sparklite on the PlayStation 4.
From Developers Red Blue Games and publisher Merge Games, this procedurally generated 16-bit inspired adventure reminded me of games such as Moonlighter, only without the whole ‘running your own store’ aspect. The game is all about progression, trying over and over again until you’ve upgraded yourself to a point in which you can push yourself to get that little bit further before you perish once more, repeating the cycle over and over again.
So, let’s take a closer look at this retro-inspired action-puzzle game and see what we thought of it after around 15-20 hours…
Geodia is a magical land which is held together by the Sparklite, the life force of both the world and its inhabitants. The glowing blue crystals which form can be used as rechargeable power sources for all who live here, delivering low-level energy to those who need it. However, the evil Baron has formed a plan to harness all of the Sparklite energy so that he can use it to fuel his war machines as he works towards his ultimate goal of becoming all-powerful. However, the world is aware of this his intentions and enables its self-defence mechanism, the ability to rearrange the world in an effort to slow down his progress of syphoning out all of the magical resources.
Flying high above Geodia we find Ada, a young mechanical genius, and her floating robotic sidekick, casually passing by until tragedy strikes – the shuffling causes creatures to invade your ship which leaves you no choice but to take the escape pod into the unknown below. Once there you meet up with a few of the inhabitants who save you and welcome you into their own floating isle, high above the self-protecting planet below. You agree to help them as you set out on a mighty adventure to seek out new allies, farm as much Sparklite as you can, destroy every hostile creature below, and rid the world of the evil Baron.
You’ll find yourself traversing through five distinct biomes as you encounter new enemies, face fierce bosses, unlock new gear, and seek out a bunch of missing musical mini-monsters. Also, just as a wise old guy once told another perky adventurer, it’s dangerous to go alone – as such, the game is also playable in local co-op should you have someone with you who wants to play along…
Sparklite is technically a top-down Metroidvania-roguelike game, it’s all about going down to the procedurally generated world, making it as far as you can before you die whilst collecting as much Sparklite as you can, then using whatever you collected on unlocking new abilities or weapons before going back down to give it another shot. As such, I always find that these games start off rather slow, you’ll die quite a bit at first whilst trying to survive with only a few health hearts and a weak attack. However, the whole concept is very addictive and you won’t want to stop playing as you’ll gradually increase your stats via the use of items you find, buy or combine.
Also, whilst you’re off on your adventure, you’ll find new and interesting people such as a guy giving you free items, a fellow mechanic, two people who always seem to get lost, and even a floating guy who has an obsession with racing you. All of these will accompany you back at the floating refuge should you talk to them, offering you new rooms and resources to unlock. For example, once the item guy has returned, he’ll give you one random free item before you start your next run, the mechanic will let you pay to build weapons you’ve used within certain buildings down below, and the professor registers all of the creatures you’ve killed, letting you pick one which you’ll instantly become stronger against.
The game itself, upon the planet, is a brilliant 2D Pixel-art action-puzzle game where you’ll regularly have to use your newly unlocked weapons and abilities in order to progress (hence the Metroidvania aspect) and overcome the enemies you face. If you don’t take the time to ensure you’re fully upgraded, your time spent down below won’t be long. The controls are really tight and the game runs about as smooth as it can get – the whole combat and exploration aspect (via initially uncharted maps) is very precise and a lot of fun each and every time you venture into the newly generated world.
Sparklite wouldn’t be a very good game if there was no way to upgrade and boost your stats and abilities, ensuring that each run you make allows you to get a little further before you are forced to retreat once more. Thankfully, there are a bunch of mechanics which ensures that you are always given a fair chance. First of all, you can find or buy enhancements for Ada which can be equipped before you set off on an adventure. These include things such as reducing damage taken by 1/4 hearts, increasing your health by 1/4 hearts, boosting the damage you deliver, and there are even maps which reveal an entire region, even after it’s been shuffled. The tactical part of this process is that your enhancement slots are limited and various items take up a different amount of slots, so you have to prioritise what you need over what you want.
What I found really cool is that you can actually merge the same item together in order to combine their strength without using up more space. For example, if you merge a +1/4 heart item with another, you now have a +1/2 heart item which takes up the same room as the +1/4 heart item. Then, if you merge a +1/2 with another +1/2, you get a whole heart in one slot, rather than four. All passive abilities can be upgraded in this way so that it boosts their effectiveness. You can, if you have a lot of spare Sparklites, pay to increase the size of the slot-space, but other things are more important earlier on in the game.
As I mentioned previously, you get to use new weapons whilst on the planet, which you find in caves – these give you access to the blueprints upon completing a short trial chamber. If you have enough spare cash, you can then pay to build the item and take it with you on future adventures. Similarly, but this time for free, when you defeat a boss you’ll sometimes find an upgrade for your robotic partner, giving it new abilities and functions. These are all tied into progression as you can’t open certain doors until you can dig up things, light up areas, and even suck up mud and turn it into bundles of Sparklites.
Sparklite is crammed full of progression mechanics which constantly keeps the gameplay fresh and addictive, even though you’ll be spending a lot of time going over the same tileset down below.
I mentioned above that Sparklite has a co-op mode in which you can play with someone locally on your console. However, this isn’t your usual co-op as it doesn’t place a second player into the game or turn it into a split-screen adventure. Basically, the second player will take control of Ada’s robotic companion, flying around and helping out with solving the puzzles and unlocking pathways whilst looking for buried secrets and treasures.
If you’re playing the game on your own, you can still control both Ada and the flying robot, but it requires you to push R1 and move it around whilst our protagonist sits there and remote controls it, leaving her open for attacks if you’ve not killed everyone.
So, it’s not the best co-op experience but if you’re playing with a younger family member, or maybe you’re with a mate and they don’t want to just sit there and watch you hog the controller as you become addicted to the game, they can also jump in and play around with you.
Visually, Sparklite looks really good. I’ve compared it to 16-bit games but that’s only in terms of it’s aesthetic the game is going for, the actual visual quality far exceeds any original SNES or Mega Drive game. If I was to compare it to a game I’ve played recently, I’d say it reminds me a lot of the incredible Moonlighter, with the various light and visual effects within the detailed, yet simple, world. Every character you come across is unique with their own look and personality, and even the enemy types change based on what biome you’ve decided to explore today.
There is no talking within the game, requiring you to read the text as it appears for yourself, but the music is very fitting for both the art direction and the overall setting of the game.
As with all procedurally generated roguelike games, progression is the main thing – you shouldn’t be progressing too fast but you should also feel like you’re unlocking a decent amount of new things in order to help you get a little bit further upon each run. As such, Sparklite nailed it for me. Once I got past the opening few hours, which is where any game like this drags due to your low skill-level and lack of upgrades, I found myself farming around 400-800 Sparklites each time I went down to the world on an adventure, allowing me to unlock, upgrade, and purchase new abilities and boosts for my next run.
Some games don’t seem to get this right and either makes it too easy or criminally difficult – I’m so glad this game found the perfect balance for me.
On a side note, Merge Games release a lot of games via their ‘Signature’ range (as above). These are limited editions of the game which come with bonus physical items like badges, artwork, signed certificates, and the soundtrack. For those out there who didn’t know they did this and love collecting physical media to display on their shelf, take a look at all of their available games here: https://signatureeditiongames.com/
Additionally, if you game on PC, or have access to one that can play the game, there’s a free demo for Sparklite on Steam, here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/943140/Sparklite/ – Hopefully consoles will get the demo too, but for now, it appears to be PC only.
If you enjoy roguelike games with gorgeous visuals and addictive gameplay, Sparklite is for you. The game screams “one more go” every time you pass out and wake up atop the refuge island, spending all your scavenged Sparlites on new upgrades and abilities in order to strengthen your next run down below. Although the co-op isn’t as interactive as I would have hoped, simply having the option for a second person to jump in without altering the setup and lore of the game was a good idea. I have no faults with the game itself, it’s a fun, entertaining adventure which is sure to last a long time whilst you become the saviour Geodia has been waiting for…
- - Very colourful and aesthetically pleasing visuals
- - Great soundtrack
- - Progression which is perfectly paced (not too fast or slow)
- - Many weapons, abilities, and boosts to buy, unlock and upgrade
- - A co-op partner (locally) can take control of your robotic sidekick
- - Despite each area having it's own enemies, some feel like a slightly differnet design and more health over the same core mechanics
- - The procedurally generated world isn't that big
- - The final area spikes up in difficulty after the rest were quite easy