Creating a new world must be pretty hard. Well-established tropes in sci-fi and fantasy cover a lot of bases, so carving out new space is a difficult task. It’s a similar situation when you try to find a new way forward in the roguelike space. The genre blew up this generation, and there’s pretty much something for everyone if you know where to look. It doesn’t leave much room for games like SPARKLITE, a functional riff on retro games and procedural design that fails to find a unique hook to keep people invested.
Sparklite Review | Right at the start
The story sets you up as Ada, a “child from the stars” destined to help free the land of Geodia. A group of rough miners threatens to steal all the land’s Sparklite, a precious mineral that powers everything. You have to take your tech-magic wrench and start swinging against angered wildlife and massive bosses in an ever-changing landscape. You meet a few friendly shopkeepers and residents to provide you with upgrades, but the story pretty much slides into the background after the opening salvo.
Sparklite‘s sparse narrative provides little incentive to keep going once the new game shine rubs off. However, it’s far from the worst of its problems as the general repetitive gameplay loop is much more ominous. Everything in Sparklite requires some form of grinding or currency, and the content just isn’t varied enough to support it over the long term. You need to grab new upgrades for your wrench for health and damage upgrades, you need to buy gadgets after you earn them from dungeons and you must upgrade buildings to hold the other upgrades you paid for. It’s a lot to ask from a game that doesn’t give a whole lot back.
Sparklite Review | Everything that’s new
But before you reach all of that nastiness, Sparklite‘s basic gameplay is pleasant enough. It takes plenty of cues from SNES action games, so you’re swinging your wrench like a sword from a top-down perspective. You have a basic three-hit combo and a charge attack to work with, and that stays consistent throughout your experience. The only upgrades you get are tools like an energy crossbow and a neat explosive dirigible. However, while these do have combat utility, they mainly serve to solve the same subset of puzzles over and over.
If you tire of mashing out combos, Sparklite does provide a solution of sorts but it’s not a great one in the grand scheme of things. Unlike a lot of roguelikes of this type, Sparklite doesn’t lock you into rooms with enemies. This makes it fairly simple to return to where you last died, as Sparklite starts you off in the same area of the map regardless of your progress. On the flip side, this makes fights quite trivial, even more so when you realize that the same enemies respawn again and again, sometimes during the same run. Why clear out a room if you’re just going to see it repopulated when you double back?
Sparklite Review | Searching for fool’s gold
Treasure rooms add to this feeling of useless progress. Each time you beat a boss, you get the tools to unlock a new portion of the map. In each portion, there are one or two hidden caverns with a big prize at the end but it’s nothing that affects your run as you’re playing, of course. You get an upgrade you can try to slot into your wrench once you die. However, once you get this reward once, the room still spawns on the map with an empty chest on every subsequent playthrough. Since you need to use wrench upgrades to reveal the map on top of everything else, you sometimes run into scenarios where you fight to a far-off hideaway section only to find an empty cave you’ve already completed. It’s moments like that which make you want to put the controller down.
A lot of moments are like that. Even the basic combat gets stale as you reach the end of each area. There are only a handful of enemies to deal with, and you’ll see them all on your first run. As you get further in, you’ll start to see the same opponents pop up with slight tweaks to their movesets. It’s certainly not an uncommon thing, but it sticks out in a release already so mired in rooms and scenarios that constantly run together, especially since fighting these creatures is the main way you grab the currency you’ll need to gain any progress.
Sparklite Review | Not a dream come true
Sparklite is grindy and beats players down in an attempt to intrigue them. If this giant troll kills you in two hits, maybe you’ll want to grind currency to get stronger. If you have limited room on your wrench for upgrades, you might want to grind currency to get it bigger. It’s similar to how other games operate, but nothing about the grinding is enjoyable. It’s a chore, and it’s what you’re doing for the vast majority of the experience. There are no character upgrades during your run, no fun weapons to find, and no novel mechanics. It’s just the same mashing you’ve done since the 16-bit days, only with a map that constantly shifts under your feet.
Linear takes on roguelikes often feature lots of variety and plenty of unique hooks. The world of Sparklite feels drab in comparison. It feels like you’ve been here a hundred times before in a hundred other games. It’s yet another game in a long line of titles like it that use the trappings of roguelikes without really delving into what makes that genre tick. Sparklite is a painfully static game that can’t overcome its inspirations or its ambitions. Whether you’re looking for a retro throwback, a new obsession, or something in-between, there are far better options than this sleepy clunker.
GameRevolution reviewed Sparklite on Xbox One X with a copy provided by the publisher.