I’ll skip the preamble – this game feels a little familiar. You know the type: the pixel-art indie rogue-lites, what with their permanent progression systems and responsive combat and cute characters. Yes, we’ve seen what Sparklite does before, but does this title have enough to say about the genre to justify its existence? The answer is a resounding “sort of.”
Between the Children of Morta‘s and the Swords of Ditto‘s, there have been a few attempts to iterate on traditional, one-run-and-done rogue-lite gameplay by turning it into more of a progressive RPG-lite experience. Sparklite takes obvious notes from various Zelda titles, awarding the player “gadgets” in curated dungeons that appear in each of its five main levels. You’ll power up not only by acquiring these gadgets but by collecting the game’s titular currency and using it to upgrade workbenches and modification stations back at your floating base. The most interesting aspect of Sparklite‘s character customization is in the form of its patch system. Think of it like Resident Evil 4‘s inventory system, but for upgrades. Slot as many as you can fit into your backpack for bonuses to defense, damage, mapping, and more.
There’s the usual cast of colorful characters, like the pirate Monty and his “haul,” who provides a literal Monty Hall minigame that anyone familiar with the statistical nightmare it represents should find easy enough to win. There are also various NPCs you’ll meet on your travels who venture back to base, each of them giving the world a little more presence.
Speaking of the world, Sparklite features absolutely gorgeous pixel-art. It reminds me of Mega Man 8 with its bubbly personality and bright colors, and each of the zones feels distinct and memorable. The bosses, in particular, have designs that are nearly as clever as their hilariously creative names, and each was fun to fight if a little easy mechanically. It’s a tad disappointing that each boss was only lead up to with a brief hallway and not a more substantial “dungeon” themed around their respective zone, but I suppose this would make the trek to get to them too unforgiving.
While visually gorgeous, Sparklite fails to deliver on sound design. There were a few sound-effects seemingly missing altogether (like the silent Spark Slinger), and some that gave the wrong impression when striking enemies, like they were blocking my attack rather than being damaged by it. This was compounded by a startlingly loud — and I mean LOUD — sound clip that played twice during a loading screen after dying. It was enough to make me, my cat, and my girlfriend jump in unison, and I was worried it damaged our soundbar. Hopefully, these issues are fixed post-launch, but you have been warned.
At the beginning of each run, you’re dropped into the same starting area, off of which every other level branches. You can’t access any of the other zones until you’ve beaten the previous area’s boss and acquired its upgrade, but there are a handful of side activities along the way. Small combat dungeons award new patches, but they stay thematically similar throughout each of the areas, only introducing harder-hitting enemies and a handful of new rooms. Likewise, gadget dungeons, which “teach” the player how to use their new unlocks, are a little brief and sometimes poorly designed. One of these, which unlocks the blueprint for a gadget that allows you to enter small whirlpools, consists entirely of choosing, at random, one of a number of whirlpools in a series of rooms (the incorrect whirlpool sends you back to the start). This dungeon has a one in 720 chance of being done correctly on your first try, and it’s just as frustrating as it sounds.
Three of the game’s five active-use gadgets fire projectiles. One fires a rail-gun-like beam, another fires a slow-moving orb, and another fires a medium-speed energy bolt. They all function nearly identically in combat (that is to say, they do light damage at from afar) and none of them are utilized in any interesting ways outside unlocking a few chests in the overworld. The only interesting gadget is a blimp-like missile that’s controlled like an RC-car. Unfortunately, this is overly-risky in combat, as it leaves you standing in place as it lumbers slowly toward a target.
Maybe the biggest flaw with Sparklite is the decision to make it a “rogue-lite” at all. Traipsing through the first area to each of the branching zones that follow is a chore that gets repeated on each death, and the ever-shifting layout only adds to the frustration. The gadgets and upgrades, while necessary to reach further zones, quickly left my memory besides a few use-case scenarios. They’re used a handful of times to earn more Sparklite, but never prove necessary in battle with the game’s tougher enemies or bosses, unlike the Zelda games from which Sparklite draws so much inspiration.
Surprisingly, I reached the final boss of Sparklite in just a few hours. The progression meant I’d upgraded my health, defense, and attack in the form of the game’s patch system, and had acquired all the gadgets on offer. I hadn’t upgraded the various stations around my base because, frankly, there had been little need. Running past enemies to avoid damage is a breeze, and once I found the boss at the end of each stage, their attacks were so easily avoided I bested them without issue. That is, until the final encounter, where the health pool was so large and attacks so devastating I had no choice but to go grind for more power.
That’s just as well, though, because I feel I’ve seen everything there is to see in Sparklite. The repetitive dungeons, middling combat, and lack of interesting upgrades just don’t do enough to raise this game above the countless others it imitates. Unless you’re a fiend for these types of games, this one is an easy pass.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Merge Games.
Sparklite is a safe, stock-standard rogue-lite RPG that attempts to mimic The Legend of Zelda, but never manages to emulate it. An otherwise brief journey that requires some samey exploration to prepare for late-game hurdles leaves this adventure feeling a little stale.