When my friend told me that his friends were releasing a game soon and said that I would probably like it, I just assumed the game would be mediocre or bad. There’s just so many indie games out there that getting a random one that isn’t being heavily reviewed usually doesn’t play out well, but to be a good friend and support indie artists I bought a copy of Sparklite for my Switch the day of its release, November 14th. I was almost instantly surprised to find that I loved it and, over the next few days, that it would battle Pokemon Shield for my attention.
Sparklite is a cute pixel adventure where you play as Ada, the chosen heroine, who travels around the world of Geodia, a place plagued by earthquakes (called fractures) that change the map after every death. What dawned on me during my first hour was that it was the first ever roguelike I’ve played that was, on a fundamental level, not designed to be a fiercely difficult experience. I’ve played A LOT of roguelikes in varying genres over the years- Rogue Legacy, Into the Breach, Darkest Dungeon, Spelunky, Binding of Isaac, FTL, Slay the Spire, Dead Cells, just to name a few. Every single one of them has been incredibly challenging, brutality built into the DNA of the game. Sparklite feels more modeled after a Zelda game in difficulty more than anything else (the comparison helped by a lot of similar art choices and gameplay mechanics like slashing bushes and blowing up rocks to find hidden caves). The enemies and boss fights all have that intangible feeling of a fun challenge endemic to all Zelda games.
While I absolutely love the hardcore roguelikes out there my feeling while playing Sparklite was one of refreshment - I had never really thought about it before but why aren’t there chiller roguelikes? Why do they all need to be so incredibly difficult? Sparklite proves the genre can branch out in other directions and still be amazing.
The cycle of kill, get money, upgrade is a core mechanic of all roguelikes that contain some level of permanence and Sparklite is no different. A huge enjoyment from the game is upgrading and managing all your different items as you grow stronger.
- There is a simple but fun patch system where you essentially have an inventory bag of mismatched patch sizes you need to upgrade, combine, and fit into an increasingly large area. Think Resident Evil but with scout badges boosting your health, attacks, etc.
- There are several pieces of primary equipment you can access by finding blueprints in temples in Geodia and upgrading your workshop to build them.
- There are special limited use items called widgets. They do everything from heal you, toss some bombs, refill your energy bar, revive you on death, etc. You’ll find lots of them as you play, the randomness changing how you play on your current run through Geodia. There aren’t a ton of options but there are enough that they vary the action and keep things simple and fun before the next fracture, which will scrap your widgets and start you back at zero (the other equipment and the patches are all permanent upgrades).
I love virtually all the roguelikes I’ve played. I count many of them in my favorite games over the last several years. While Sparklite doesn’t rise to my GOTY list, it is still a great, fun, solid game all around that spins the usually merciless genre into something more approachable and relaxing. I was totally sucked in and four days, 8 hours of gameplay, and one epic final boss fight later I’d beaten it. If the idea of a Zelda-esque roguelike sounds good to you, you’ll probably like Sparklite! If you’ve found roguelike games to be overly difficult, but like the idea, or just want a change of pace, I definitely recommend it as well. As a big fan of roguelike mechanics I hope more developers start experimenting with what exactly a roguelike is meant to feel like and I’m very glad to see a game like Sparklite pushing that boundary a bit. It’s having a release sale now, so check it out!