Procedurally generated worlds are becoming ever more popular in indie games and we are seeing some truly innovative outcomes. Sparklite takes inspiration from games like Rogue Legacy to provide a randomly generated adventure that gets many things right but has some fundamental flaws that run so deep, you will find it hard to endure the few hours it takes to complete the game.
The name for the game comes from the gemstone which features prominently within the game. Sparklite stones have powerful properties that can be used as an energy source, for you however, they are used as a source of currency. Obtaining Sparklite is what this game is all about. Unfortunately, the process of obtaining it is so desperately boring that you will be unable to enjoy all of the great things this game has to offer.
Sparklite is a grind fest from the moment you pick up the controller. You will have to kill the same basic enemies over and over in order to get enough Sparklite to afford the next upgrade or to construct a new item. You will be unable to take on the boss until you have done enough grinding to afford the items you need. This is where the game falls flat on its face. The grinding has no redeeming qualities to it.
Your base camp is an airship floating around the randomly changing world below. There are various facilities here where you can interact with merchants to upgrade your abilities, craft weapons and purchase supplies to help you tackle the world below. It’s a fairly standard experience and fits the purpose very well. The problem you will find is that everything is too expensive.
Sparklite, the currency, is common but is only found in small quantities. Easy to kill enemies will drop one piece, harder ones will drop an increasing amount based on their difficulty. Plants around the world can also be interacted with and will drop 2-4 pieces. This makes the damage upgrade that costs hundreds quite expensive and will result in you needing to grind for quite some time before you can afford it.
Later on in the game, as you encounter bigger and stronger enemies, you will earn more, but it is all relative to your progression. Sure, enemies will start dropping more, but upgrades and items will also start costing more.
This type of grind is not an uncommon mechanic for games like this to use, but the fact that Sparklite is so scarce, you really feel the boredom of the grind after a matter of minutes. The 15 minutes it takes to gather a paltry 50 Sparklite, will feel like hours. I found myself reaching for my phone during every death scene in the hope I would see something fun on Reddit to save me from the suffering that the grinding inflicts on you.
The combat starts out with two attacks. Tap the attack button for a quick slash and hold it for a heavy attack. Successively tapping attack will chain a mini combo together, but nothing that will get you too excited. This is why the grind is such a chore. The combat is far too simplistic that it does not give you any real challenge but rather throws you in a tough situation where you are bound to take damage.
You will discover small puzzle dungeons in each of the games four distinct areas. Each will give you a weapon or gadget and you must make it to the other end using this item. You will come across all kinds of weird and cool items. Some of them will be new types of weapons but others will be gadgets that give you new abilities. Being able to shrink yourself down to the size of a mouse in order to run through pipes is one of the more wacky ones that really set the standard of what to expect from these items.
Once you complete the dungeon, you will unlock the schematics to construct the item yourself. This will allow you to use the item whenever you wish outside of the dungeon. Sadly, all of these cool items are locked until you can fork up enough Sparklite to pay for it. So you essentially need to spend some time grinding, to afford an item that adds a tiny bit of diversity to your future grinding efforts.
The problem is that these gadgets, as good as they might be, do not make the combat more interesting. Killing an enemy with a slash of a sword or using some creative weapon, doesn’t hide the fact that the enemies are dumb. You will be dealing with 1980s level of enemy AI for the majority of the experience. Yet again, not really a bad thing on its own, but when you need to spend hours killing these kinds of enemies to collect enough money to purchase the next item, you will want to smash your controller off the wall.
As you progress you will also begin to find items called Widgets. These are consumable items that serve a similar function that runes or potions might traditionally do. Widgets to make you run faster, illuminate the dark and heal you are some of the more valuable widgets you will come across.
There are also widgets you can use to attack enemies but they rarely work well. Most enemies move quickly, the slow cast time for these widgets often results in you taking damage before the widget is activated. In most cases, you are best off using your primary weapons for combat and saving the widgets for buffs.
Widgets can be purchased in the base camp but this is a waste of money. You will pick up random widgets as you explore the land and this is the smartest way to obtain them. The healing widgets are incredibly valuable during boss battles and during extended explorations, but purchasing them is always a tough decision as you could die right away and have wasted all that money.
Most enemies will take half a heart from you. If you have explored a large portion of the current world, death will reset all of your progress and you will need to start again in a completely new, randomly generated world. You start out with three hearts, so expect to die a lot while you grind to save up enough Sparklite to upgrade your health.
Once you feel you have enough health to survive long enough to explore, you need to grind Sparklite in order to obtain the gadgets you need for the next boss. Once you get to the boss, you find your attacks are not doing enough damage and need to grind Sparklite yet again to increase your damage. The entire game is based on tiny progressions through the main campaign followed by long sessions of Sparklite grinding. This kind of thing is common, but the rewards for grinding are drip-fed at such a slow pace that you feel no sense of reward while playing. An hour of grinding to kill a boss so you can then spend more hours of grinding to do the next thing?
You will regularly find yourself in a position where you do not have the materials or strength to progress to the next area. Literally the only thing for you to do is kill a bunch of easy enemies to gather enough Sparklite to get stronger. It’s like the World of Warcraft episode in South Park where they went to the woods and spent hours killing boars in order to get strong enough to move on.
The pixel art visual style used is quite nice most of the time, but you will occasionally find that it is difficult to understand the elevation of the terrain. Sometimes it is not obvious which areas are higher or lower than others. Makes navigation a bit annoying at times, but that is the only real complaint you will have. You will eventually visit the same scene so many times that you will know how to pass through it.
The soundtrack is by far the strongest aspect of this game. The catchy melodies feel like something you would find in a Zelda game. Each area will have its own unique tune and almost all of them are really nice to listen to. The songs do a lot to make this game feel like a bigger adventure and give some nice atmosphere to the areas you are exploring.
The main goal of this game is to defeat large bosses known as titans. They tend to spend their time in dark caves where you will wonder how they managed to fit in the front door. The boss battles are pretty cool and show that the combat isn’t always a slog. The battles are tough so you will need to come prepared. After a few attempts, you will learn how the bosses work and be able to make a decent attempt at killing them. Ultimately, it is all down to how much grinding you did to improve your strength in advance.
The brief wistful moment you have after the first boss is quickly quelled when you realize the next area is the exact same grind with a new coat of paint. Enemies are a bit harder and move in new ways, but it is the exact same thing. You have overcome a big challenge only to have to do it all over again. There is no feeling that the game is going to open up from here. You are cast right back to the bottom of the pit again.
It is only after completing a boss battle that you can pinpoint the flaw in the combat. None of the enemies prepare you for the boss fights. You are used to slashing enemies here and there. A bit of rolling maybe, nothing that will make you break a sweat. Then suddenly you are up against an enemy that requires you to use your brain. As you desperately try to wake up and figure out the attack patterns, you get killed and have to start over.
The location of the boss dungeon changes every time you die. When you think you have cracked a boss, you die and have to go hunting to find the dungeon again. The exploration to find it may result in you getting killed once or twice and before you know it, you are back to grinding the basic enemies when you should be having a blast fighting the boss.
This game is quite short, which isn’t always a bad thing. There might be 2 or 3 hours worth of content in there. With 4 main boss battles and a final area, you could rip through the unique content in an hour if this were a standard adventure game. This is what makes grinding all the more annoying. It only exists to make a short experience feel longer. I’m sure there is a sexual pun to make in there somewhere.
I would much rather spend 2 hours playing a game to completion that is a lot of fun, than to endure hours of senseless padding that turn a fun game with a lot of potential into a nightmare. Sparklite is not the first game to deploy this style of grind and repeat system, but what it fails to do where others have succeeded is to make that grinding fun. The combat has no challenge to it. Most of the time you die is because you make stupid mistakes and rush because you are so fed up of doing the same thing over and over.