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Sparklite Review

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440624963_Sparkliteboxart.png.bbf2b3851fbc91b40e5733053e7bb37c.pngBoth 2D adventure games and roguelikes are a dime a dozen, so maybe the best way to stand out from the crowd is to combine the two into one experience, complete with pixel art and a charming soundtrack. Sparklite draws solid ideas from both genres, but the final result could have used a more unique spin to keep things engaging.
In the land of Geodia, everything is powered by Sparklite, a glowing blue ore that serves as the lifeblood of the planet. But an evil overlord named the Baron has been hoarding Sparklite to power his war machines, and the pollution is causing plants and animals to mutate into dangerous monsters. Our hero Ada crash lands in Geodia and quickly sets off on an adventure to stop the Baron before his plans destroy the planet itself. It's a classic hero adventure, complete with a silent protagonist with a helpful assistant (in this case, a robot, not a fairy). The story is pretty bare-boned but there's a lot of charm in the side characters you meet, not least of which is a musician that asks you to help her rescue small birds that have gone missing in Geodia. Sparklite's writing may not stand out but what little there is is endearing.
The gameplay feels like a mid-point between a traditional adventure game and a roguelike. The map is procedurally generated every time you leave your base of operations, but you don't lose equipment or story progress when you die (aside from minor consumable items which are usually easily replaced). This makes Sparklite much less punishing than a typical roguelike; even though you have to explore the map again every time you set out, the map is conveniently divided into five sections and each area isn't too large. It's also worth taking the time to explore since you'll be able to collect Sparklite which is the game's currency for everything, including valuable upgrades. Even if you reach a boss and die, the Sparklite you collected on the way will stay with you, helping you fuel future attempts.
The downside is that the cost of upgrades is pretty high, and a typical journey to the surface of Geodia will probably only yield enough Sparklite for one or two upgrades. This is where the game's exploration gameplay loop comes into play, but it can't help but feel like padding out the game's short length. Exploration is fun the first few times, but when you need to do it over and over just to be able to afford to increase your health it feels like busywork. It doesn't help that the procedurally generated map drains some of the character from the environment—you can't have unique set pieces when everything needs to be able to fit together randomly.
The combat in Sparklite also leaves something to be desired. Ada can use her wrench to smack enemies, and that's basically all there is to it. Attack, dodge away when the enemy winds up their own attack, repeat. There's little depth or excitement to the battle system, though you can unlock items like a crossbow or floating bombs to change things up a little. The only problem is that these items are so slow to use that they aren't very effective in the heat of combat. And with recovery items being surprisingly rare, it's usually not worth taking the risk to whip out a fancy item or gadget. Boss fights unfortunately aren't much better. They're certainly flashier but they're even more beholden to the basic pattern of attack and dodge, just with larger and more predictable attacks from the enemy.
The game is at its best when it leans a little more toward a traditional adventure game. Scattered throughout the map you'll find vaults that are filled with simple puzzles and reward you with a new item (though you have to spend Sparklite to actually unlock it) and you'll occasionally find monster lairs filled with enemies or other challenges. Once again the randomly generated design of the game hurts the overall experience—these vaults and lairs are fun but feel disappointingly basic. Perhaps if the game wasn't randomly generated there would have been more opportunity to better flesh these out.
One area where the game does not disappoint though is the presentation. There is some beautiful pixel artwork here, notably when it comes to the charming side characters you meet or the massive, imposing boss battles. The retro look may be old hat by now but it still looks fantastic. The music is also excellent with a lot of fun, lively songs that match the sense of adventure. Even if retreading randomly generated maps gets old, the soundtrack never does.

Sparklite finds a comfortable niche between traditional 2D adventure games and roguelikes, but the end result might be less than the sum of its parts. The randomly generated elements of the game ultimately feel like padding while the classic sense of exploration and combat feels too basic. There's still an enjoyable adventure to be had in Geodia, but it doesn't quite live up to its potential.

Rating: 7 out of 10 Sparks

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