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Sparklite review: feature-lite

By Jon Bailes. Posted

If you’ve any affinity for the stylings of SNES action RPGs, initial impressions of Sparklite are likely to be favourable. Secret of Mana is probably the most apt comparison to Sparklite’s boldly coloured pastures and grottoes, and its mellow, catchy soundtrack. Or perhaps a 2D Zelda, not least when you’re cutting through tall grasses and bombing rocks. It’s an instant nostalgia boost.

There’s a solid structure pinning it together too. Your floating, balloon-powered hub is a mini RPG town full of friendly faces ready to furnish you with gear. As you venture out to explore the five interconnected environments below, you’ll find other characters, who return there to offer new services. You then renovate their stores and workshops to access even better stuff. All for a price, of course.

On the ground, you clear out screens of enemies, tracking down money and upgrades until you feel powered up enough to tackle the area boss. Battling the aggressive wildlife is breezy and rhythmic, as you time your dashes and spanner swipes between enemy shots and charges. And each area has a new gadget to find, such as a remote-controlled rocket or a self-shrinking tool, which opens up more routes and grants access to further treasure.

Your character has a little robot buddy that also gains new abilities to help you progress and gather more loot.

The twist is that every time you die, the world changes. Areas are still connected in the same way, via a central starting zone, but the layout within each shifts shape and content and must be mapped afresh. This doesn’t quite make Sparklite a roguelike, as you don’t lose progress, but adds a random factor that, in theory, should make it worth exploring an area many times.

In practice, it doesn’t quite work out. Once you’ve combed an area once or twice, excavated a few key locations, and defeated its boss, the only incentive to return is to grind cash. It’s here that the low variety of enemies and scenery becomes an issue, along with an absence of cunning level design – none of the underground caverns or challenges you find require ingenuity to traverse, and those Zelda-like gadgets really just function as extra weapons or keys.

Most bosses are quite straightforward. But the final battle is tough unless you’ve taken time to power up sufficiently.

As you enter a treasure cave that’s identical to one you’d mined elsewhere, it all starts to feel undernourished. It doesn’t help when multiple minor glitches make you wonder whether something actually is missing. Either way, it mostly boils down to methodically visiting squares on the map, bashing up monsters, and picking up loot. Combat at least demands focus, but you soon get used to fighting the same foes.

Sparklite is a 16-bit tribute that merges, polishes, and updates old formulas, but doesn’t have much below the surface. It’s Secret of Mana without the epic RPG trappings. Zelda without the precise craft or puzzles. A reasonably satisfying core experience that needs more spark and is a little too lite.

Sparklite's 16-bit stylings sure do look pretty.

Highlight

Character upgrades take the form of patches, which you arrange on a grid in the hub to activate. Limited room means prioritising, perhaps sacrificing health boosts for more attack power or map tools to aid exploration. With enough cash, you can also combine duplicate patches, condensing their power to conserve space. It’s a neatly flexible system.

Verdict

For all the incentive to explore Sparklite offers, there’s not enough to really discover.

57%

Genre: Action adventure | Format: PS4 (tested) / XBO / PC / Switch | Developer: Red Blue Games | Publisher: Merge Games | Price: £19.99 | Release: Out now

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