It’s hard out there for indie games. How do you get any exposure when triple A titles get all the coverage? What’s more, how do you stand out in a sea of other indie games? Not all games are created equal, and when a game is released with just a quick trailer and some screen captures and a brief synopsis, you can be excused for not knowing exactly what kind of game you’re in for. Based on what little I had to go, Sparklite seemed right up my alley, and so far I’m intrigued by what I’ve seen.
Sparklite is a rogue-lite game, with all the trappings you’ve come to expect from this sub-genre of games, and one that doesn’t set up it’s premise right away. You play as Ada, a young explorer who crash lands in Geodia, a strange place beset by storms and earthquakes that change the layout in the land every time they strike. This is how the game procedurally generates the five main areas of the game each time you “die.”
When Ada lands, she goes out in search of her robot companion, who was lost when their ship went down in one of the terrible storms that have been occurring with greater frequency lately. She encounters Hawkins, who ran a Widget Shop until the last storm destroyed his business. He sends you out to recover his widget bag from some gremlins that stole it. When you return it, he lets you keep the bag and a few items as well, and ventures off to find a “place in the sky” he’s heard of where people are safe from the storms happening on the surface.
Shortly thereafter you will encounter a Titan and engage in a battle that you will lose. You perish, and a large crane comes and lifts you up into a Medbay area, which is where you are sent when you “die.” You have inadvertently discovered The Refuge.
As with most rogue-lite games, you have a hub area that serves as your home base, a floating city called The Refuge, where you can purchase upgrades, make improvements to the various shops, and slowly build your character up with permanent upgrades. Only through exploration, gradual progress, and “teachable moments” will you get better and stronger.
The Medbay is run by a young woman, who explains that you were extracted and saved before death, which is why I said “die” earlier. The Medbay has a few amenities and items for purchase, as well as the ability to equip “patches” that you discover. These patches enhance your abilities, allow you to increase your health, make your weapons stronger, among other things.
You are told by the young woman that you need to return to the world below, known as Geodia, to find more Sparklite, the currency of the land, to help her and the others living in The Refuge, which will in turn help you on your quest.
You descend down to the world of Geodia by talking to a young man, who will take you down in his airship. His resemblance to Cid Highwind is intentional and on brand for Sparklite. This game is heavily influenced by several different games.
Everyone in The Refuge wants and needs Sparklite (to improve their operations, their personal bankroll) but no one seems eager to get it themselves so they leave it up to you. You’ll find that Hawkins, the fledgling Widget Shop owner has made it there too, but can not set up his shop for business until he has more Sparklite as well. This is where the game’s concept becomes clear: explore, collect, improve, and most likely get sent back to the Medbay multiple times, until you are strong enough to defeat the first Titan.
Certain parts of the game are a tad confusing, or strangely worded. You encounter a brother and sister early on who are looking for each other. They each want the other to know that they are safe, and entrust you with delivering a medallion that will let the other know they are OK. Think of it as a low-tech version of checking yourself in as safe on Facebook. When you encounter the sister, she tells you her brother was exploring the Vinelands when he went missing. Initially, I thought I was in the Vinelands, so that confused me. Only when I reached the gate to one of the next areas and read the sign pointing back to where I came from that I learned that yes, I was indeed already in the Vinelands. This would’ve been easily rectified had I been good enough at the game early on to live long enough to encounter both characters in the relatively small area, so this is more of a reflection on my own poor skills than anything else.
The game has a few bugs. At one point, I was talking to the brother and his text was partially clipped off the screen. Minor bugs aside, some of the load times are a little lengthy as well, to the point where you begin to wonder if the game is frozen. All that being said, I felt like this line of dialogue was a bit of a meta reference to the fact the people at Red Blue Games are aware that all the kinks aren’t worked out yet, and that they are open to hearing feedback:
Speaking of patches, they serve as power ups you equip to your Patches Board. Some patches are more powerful than others, and those more beefed up ones are larger and take up multiple slots on the board, much like the inventory system in the Resident Evil series.
This is a game with multiple influences. Sparklite’s top down look is reminiscent of the original The Legend of Zelda and it’s SNES sequel A Link to the Past. The rogue-lite nature of it makes it comparable to many games, but you can see the influence of Enter the Gungeon in the boss fights, Dead Cells, Rogue Knight, and many other games where your incremental progress will make you a stronger, smarter, faster player.
Influences aside, Sparklite is a fun game, with new upgrades and areas always just around the corner. While I’m still early in the game, the fluid combat and bright visuals create an interesting world where you discover little things all the time that give you bursts of inspiration. This constant discovery gives you the incentives to try new things.
My initial opinion of the game is that it’s a worthy addition for fans of the genre and the further I delve into its world, the more I’ll see if the game itself continues to change and evolve as much as the terrain of it’s world, or if it merely sets the table well at the outset.
I’ll see you all again in 25 days when my quest for more Sparklite extends past the early areas, and into the deeper parts of the game.
Sparklite is available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, XBox One, PC or Mac, and Steam. This review was based on playing the game in handheld mode on the Nintendo Switch.
Game code provided by the publisher.