I’m a sucker for a Zelda-inspired game. My all time favourite is Link to the Past and so it’s no surprise that I jumped at the chance to play Sparklite, an pixelated roguelite take on classic top-down Zelda. Except it isn’t really a roguelite. A more accurate description would be a persistent character, procedurally generated world action RPG with a retro aesthetic, but that doesn’t really dodge roll off the tongue. The end result is a game that looks like Zelda but feels like a very different beast, and one that doesn’t always benefit from the repetition that is hardwired into the roguelite genre.
First impressions of Sparklite are really positive. The pixelated aesthetic is lovely, with some nice character and enemy design. Your main character, Ada, finds herself stranded in a mysterious land which appears to have suffered a violent cataclysm. In uncovering the origins of this event in Geodia, Ada needs to use her mechanic skills and courage to confront an assortment of beasts and the henchman of the sinister Baron. Oh, and there’s a destiny to fulfil that she didn’t realise she had.
OK, so the story is generic as heck and pretty paper thin. The cataclysmic background is the narrative excuse for the procedural generation of the levels. Every time you die the world experiences a fracture which alters the landscape and leads to a new experience. Well, that’s the idea anyway. In reality, the range of variables for the zone setups is disappointingly narrow and it all becomes overly familiar after just a few resets.
Ada’s adventure will take you through a series of five zones, ranging from forests to deserts, but most of the enemies are reskinned instead of new designs. This adds to the sense of repetition for repetition’s sake and I soon found myself wishing that Red Blue Games had opted for a standard form of exploration and progression.
This feeling is compounded by the collectables strewn across the landscape. These are tied to specific room setups and there is no way of ensuring that you will get those rooms without restarting multiple times. This is made even more frustrating by the fact that killing yourself becomes increasingly difficult as you level up your skills. There does appear to be a patch on the way to fix this, but the current version suffers.
You are not alone in your adventure. You find a number of friends who set up shops in the hub to assist you, though these also seem to be dictated by RNG, which means that there is an element of luck as to whether the more useful accessories (mostly a reincarnation power that gives you a second chance) will be available.
The closest thing to an actual shop is the patch vendor from whom you can purchase upgrades to apply to your multitool weapon. These can be used to enhance your attack power, your health, to reveal parts of the randomised map layout, or to unlock new skills. This system is one of Sparklite’s strongest aspects because it enables you to adjust Ada to suit different approaches, but is held back by a serious design oversight. By the end of the game you will almost certainly have more patches than the interface can handle and there is no way to scroll through them. You can merge patches to make the effect stronger, but it’s difficult to find the ones you need in the inventory. Again, there is promise of a patch (heh), but this became a huge frustration as I looked to polish off the final parts of the game.
Exploring the zones of Geodia will find you discovering a set range of landmarks in each. The only real difference after each Fracture is the layout. Every zone will contain a furnace – a mini-boss type area – a temple where you will find a blueprint, and a boss room. The temples are where the game feels most like Zelda, as you receive an item and get to explore the ways it can be used while solving environmental puzzles. However, you have to relinquish the item to leave the temple and then spend in-game currency to develop your own version. To do this, you have to die and then be sent back to the hub. This is a bizarre hangover from the roguelite influences and soon becomes annoying. The items are then massively under-utilised through the game as the upgrades awarded by defeating bosses are the only things you need to make any progress.
As the game progresses, you unlock a robot companion who can assist you in solving puzzles and opening new areas. This is a welcome addition, but doesn’t become much more than functional. You can play a rudimentary co-op multiplayer mode with one player controlling the robot, but again this feels like an idea that hasn’t fully been realised.