The influence of Super Meat Boy is starting to feel like a death sentence for aspiring indie titles. Has there been even a single successful attempt at recapturing the smooth precision of the 2010 classic? The latest challenger is Spinch, which marries the platforming to cartoon psychedelia reminiscent of Earthbound. The aesthetic is practically the only thing it has going for it, because the gameplay is on par with a mid-tier Flash game from the Newgrounds heyday. I recognize that that’s a strange criticism, given that Super Meat Boy itself grew out of the Flash landscape, but it did so in both the sense of originating from it and transcending it through intense polish. Spinch has neither a claim to the latter sense nor the excuse of the former.
It’s something of a throwback to gaming’s pre-3D era, where half of all releases were side-scrolling platformers that could be about whatever fever dream the designer had the night before. Hence, it stars the title creature, a walking white spot that must avoid fleshy blobs of eyes, limbs, and teeth to rescue its children from predatory rainbows. The eye-popping absurdity is the primary reason to play, with the offbeat audio assisting the experience. I imagine if someone told the developers that we’ve had a standard style of jumping sound effect for decades, they’d reply that that’s not strange enough. The music is ungodly repetitive, but the intended way to play the game seems to be “in a trance,” so it certainly helps in that regard.
It’s surprising, then, that the gameplay is so pedestrian. The only originality on display here is in the boss fights, which all involve loading cannons with bombs from bonus levels alongside your rescued offspring, then navigating to the button that launches them at your opponent. The other levels consist of dashing, jumping, and wall-jumping through painfully standard obstacles spruced up with neon paint. There are collectible blocks that grant temporary invulnerability when 50 are picked up, but when that will happen is entirely unpredictable, so it’s a next-to-useless inclusion. I genuinely groaned in exasperation when later levels introduced slippery ice surfaces, viscous aquatic sections, and inverted gravity – partially because those mechanics are old as time, but mostly because the controls are uncooperative even before they’ve been intentionally screwed with.
Mid-air control is especially stiff, while dashing is incredibly inconsistent – sometimes it will cause a little upward bounce, and sometimes the Spinch will drop like a stone. The aesthetic also lets the game down in this regard, as the slightly angled perspective is horrible for hit detection and wall-jumping. This is when the game is behaving correctly, but there’s also a multitude of bugs. I don’t normally call attention to glitches in this era of post-launch patches, but glitchy platforming control in a platforming game is definitely something that should be fixed before release. The frequent losses caused by these issues are frustrating on their own, but they’re exacerbated by sparse checkpoint placement, which sours the otherwise smartly-designed levels.
The glorification of high difficulty among gamers has almost certainly had an overall detrimental effect on the medium. I can hear the cries of “git gud” before I’ve even finished writing this. But when Spinch is being difficult by demanding quick reflexes and pattern exploitation, it’s fine. It only becomes annoying when it’s been poorly constructed…which is most of the time. Its strong aesthetics and level design may compensate for its shallow concept, but there are plenty of equally wacky and mesmerizing games that don’t tax the player’s patience so much.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by Akupara Games.
Spinch is a trip - both the psychedelic kind and the "fall on your face" kind.