Review: Sparklite Is an Addictive Rogue-Lite with Retro Charm
Sparklite is a top-down, action adventure game developed by RedBlue Games and published by Merge Games. Set in the constantly changing world of Geodia, you play as Ada, a young mechanic who has to stop the Baron from mining the world of all its Sparklite, a powerful but volatile ore. You’ll need travel through the various environments of Geodia, finding upgrades, Sparklite, gadgets, and more in order to survive Geodia’s wildlife, mutated beyond recognition by the Baron’s reckless mining, and to defeat the Titans, five of the Baron’s henchmen who have been outfitted with massive mechanical suits. You won’t be at this alone, however. You’ve got your faithful robot pal at your side, along with cast of charming, unique characters helping you along the way. Sparklite feels like a love letter to SNES titles like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and if you love games like Enter the Gungeon or Binding of Isaac, I have a feeling you’ll love Sparklite.
I’ve seen some describe Sparklite as a rogue-lite, which is usually applied to games that have a procedurally generated game world and force you to start at the beginning if you die, while allowing you to keep upgrades and currencies from previous runs, meaning that while you may have to start over, you’ll be better equipped than you were before. For the most part this does accurately describe Sparklite: Geodia, the game world, is procedurally generated every time the player comes down from Refuge, which is explained in-game as the core of Geodia causing a Disruption, which resets the world, in order to set back the Baron.
When you die, you’ll be whisked away to Refuge, an airship floating above Geodia which acts as a hub world where you can upgrade and customize your character, as well as interact with characters you’ve saved. The primary means of customizing your character is through Patches. These confer bonuses to your character like increased damage or more health. However, you are limited to a 3×3, and then 4×4, square, so you have to decide which patches you want to use depending on what your goal for a run. Eventually you gain the ability to fuse patches together, giving you the benefits of both patches while only taking up the space of one. You can fuse up to two times, with patches starting as bronze, then silver, then gold. This reminds me a lot of the inventory systems of Resident Evil 4 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I think its a nice touch that forces you to weigh the benefits of patches against each other.
However, Sparklite does play with this formula a bit. Geodia is split into to five zones, each with a different look and different enemies. Each zone is home to a Titan, who acts as the boss of each area. Once you beat a Titan, they are permanently beaten; if you die you don’t have to go and beat every Titan over again. In addition, once you beat a Titan you gain a new skill which will allow you to access the next zone, making each zone feel like its own self-contained challenge. I really like this, as it finds a happy medium between the all or nothing game play of a rogue-lite and more traditional, forgiving games.
When you do choose to go down to the surface of Geodia, there is a lot to do. There are the previously mentioned Titans to defeat, but these are difficult boss fights which will require a well-equipped character. Until you feel ready there are still plenty of other activities. The world is teeming with enemies, so you’ll never go far without having to fight. Each zone has a Furnace, where you can find enemy encounters which will reward you with chests containing either Sparklite, the game’s currency, or Patches. Secondly, each zone has a Foundry, which you need to find to obtain Blueprints for new Gadgets. These should be a priority, as certain gadgets allow you to access parts of the map that would have previously been inaccessible and may contain rewards. You can also search for Beats, bird-like creatures who can be hidden in the ground, the water, in enemies, in rocks, in chests. Discovered Beats will return to Refuge, where they will join a choir in which they sing. The leader of the choir will reward you with Patches when you find enough Beats, but I would still search high and low for these little guys even if there was no reward. They’re adorable, and the more Beats you find the more complete the song becomes. In addition, all of the rocks in Geodia can be blown up, with some disappearing to reveal a hole in the ground. These can contain enemies or puzzles, which may require certain gadgets for you to complete.
I have to say, the gameplay loop of Sparklite is kind of addictive, especially for how relatively simple the mechanics. Ada starts out with just a multi-tool, which has a strong and heavy attack, as well as jet boot-facilitated dash. However, you quickly gain access to blueprints for gadgets which give you plenty of additional ways to take on enemies. In addition, every enemy demands a different strategy, and the randomness of the game means that you won’t always have the same items, meaning you’ll need to plan your strategy around what you have. Each run feels like you’re working towards something, and I always felt like I’d accomplished something if I ended up dying. The upgrades offered through the Patch Board really let you customize your play style, with patches that assist in exploration, dealing damage with the multi-tool or gadgets, and damage resistance. Additionally, you eventually reunite with your robot pal, who has an assortment of abilities that will aid you in your fight against the Baron. The game supports couch co-op as well, with one player controlling Ada and the other her robot.
Something that’s worthy of special mention is Sparklite’s art style. With a pixel art aesthetic reminiscent of games from the SNES, as well as more recent games like Stardew Valley, everything looks fantastic. Colors are bold, and character designs are amazing, with every NPC and enemy feeling unique. Particular praise needs to go to the enemy designs, which look like what would happen if you took a classic Mario or Legend of Zelda enemy and left it in Chernobyl.
I did run into one bug which involved me dying during the tutorial (I promise I’m good at video games) and caused me to lose the blueprint for a gadget, which isn’t how the game works; once you get a blueprint you keep it even if you die. Fortunately, I was able to reach out to the developers, who confirmed it was a bug that they were going to try to patch as quickly as possible. Big thanks to RedBlue for their quick response.
I really adore Sparklite. The pixel art graphics, punchy colors, and creative character and enemy designs draw you in, and then the addictive game play and bevy of customization options keep you glued there until you beat the game. There’s just something deeply satisfying about this constant feeling of getting more powerful while also still being given a challenge, and Sparklite balances this very well. If you really like top-down rogue-lite games with an interesting art style, like Enter the Gungeon or The Binding of Isaac, Sparklite really is a must play.
Sparklite is available today on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Windows