Rogue-like is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. Plenty of indie games have some kind of “rogue-like” mechanic that changes the way you think and play the game. Children of Morta presented constantly changing dungeons and a skill based system that required you to play as each of the family members in order to become stronger. Sparklite (from developer RedBlue Games) does have a charming exterior with plenty to love, but the grueling gameplay is the exact opposite and will definitely test your patience. There are moments of satisfaction (especially after defeating a Titan), but those moments of satisfaction are so few and far between that even they just couldn’t push me to enjoy the game. It has an interesting world to explore, it just does everything in its power to hinder your exploration and enjoyment.
At least the music reminded me of the Secret of Mana series and was nice to listen to.
As the star-born child Ada, you’re tasked with bringing the world of Geodia together with your robot companion Wingnut. You’ll travel to five different areas that range from a poisonous swamp to a desert in your quest to defeat the evil mining company’s Titans. If you’re too late, the foundation stone will fall into the Baron’s hands and he will be able to shape the world for his own gain.
What makes Sparklite a “rogue-like” game is that each time you die or defeat a titan (one of the bosses in each area), the world below “fractures”, which essentially means it changes its structure. Whenever you go down to the surface, it’s never the same set-up (and if you die, you lose all the items in your supply bag). It’s an interesting premise, but it’s not like it actually changes the areas themselves. There might be new enemies in the areas, but the areas always look the same, they’re just in different spots.
Speaking of enemies, they do a ridiculous amount of damage to Ada. Every enemy I came across (even the tiny blobs) would hit for roughly one and a half hearts. Early on in the game, when you only have three hearts, you’re constantly on the verge of death. This wouldn’t be a problem if enemies dropped health hearts more frequently, but I never saw a single one drop unless I was in the room before a boss fight. This makes exploring the world extremely difficult. Most of the time, I just found myself running from area to area, just trying to find the Titan so I could defeat it and move on. I didn’t want to bother exploring any areas for fear of dying and having to start over. Maybe in a future patch update the developers could increase the number of hearts that drop from common enemies, so I could actually do some proper exploring. Playing Sparklite honestly felt like I was playing Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening but my only difficulty option was Hero Mode.
As you progress further through the game, you can upgrade the Workshop, Widget Shop & Medical Facility at the Floating City hub area. Each upgrade will allow you to either invent new gadgets you’ve discovered, gain new Widgets (special items like health kits) to carry down into battle immediately, or increase the amount of patches you can equip on Ada to increase her health or damage.
The Patch Grid can hold as many patches as you can fit on it. Some patches can take up one space on the grid, while others like the Bronze Multi-Tool Damage (which increases the damage you do with your wrench) can take up to four. Figuring out what’s important and what can be left behind can really change how well you progress. I was always in need of health so I tried to fill mine with as many heart patches as possible.
Along with figuring out how to assemble your Patch Grid, there are plenty of gadgets to discover. Each gadget you come across has a short puzzle dungeon you have to solve in order to reverse-engineer it so you are able to assemble it back at your workshop. The Shrinkinator 5000 will allow you to travel through small pipes to reach different areas, while Bubble of Breath will allow you to breathe underwater to be able to get across deep ponds. They’re helpful, it’s just that if you want to create one, you’re looking at spending 300 Sparklite (for each one). Sparklite is the currency of the game, but if the game would have just allowed me to find the item and build it back at my workshop, awesome. I shouldn’t have to save up Sparklite to be able to build something, when I need that Sparklite for something else. It would be like discovering an item in a Zelda game, and in order for you to use that item, you’d have to pay 300 rupees every time you wanted to use that new item. Everything costs a lot of Sparklite, and to exasperate things even more, you get Sparklite from killing enemies, who in turn, hit you for ridiculous amounts of damage. It’s just a vicious cycle. Most of the time you have to make a choice. Either farm up Sparklite and die so you can upgrade your stuff, or rush to the Titan you need to defeat and hopefully kill it to progress the story.
Another complaint I have is that there isn’t even a way to get back to the Floating City hub area unless you die or defeat a Titan. You get to keep all the Sparklite you earned, but you lose all the items you collected. Why not allow me to go back to the Floating City without having to kill myself, but take all the items as punishment? It just seems like another unnecessary design choice. Also, I forgot to mention, there is two-player co-op, but the second player controls Wingnut. In single player, you can use your robot companion to clean up slime messes or pull things out of the ground. I tried playing with my six year-old son but he lost interest quickly, so just don’t play it in co-op and everyone will be happy.
Sparklite can be extremely frustrating at times, but that feeling of satisfaction can be worth it, if you’re a glutton for punishment. Sparklite is one of those games where you have to ask yourself if the time you’re investing is actually worth the effort in the long run. I mean, that’s how most games work, sure, but Sparklite doesn’t seem to reward you as well as it should for the amount of effort you have to put in. If Sparklite does peek your interest though, I would absolutely recommend Moonlighter. It has the same cute, pixelated graphics and rogue-like aesthetic, but instead of designing gadgets between those randomly generated dungeon runs, you run your own item shop (which is how you make money). It’s also a little more forgiving and enjoyable. – NVJ
Sparklite is now available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch & PC
PS4 review code provided by Evolve PR