As someone who grew up with Zelda and other Nintendo classics, there’s very little quite as lovely and nostalgic as a great pixel-art adventure game. Unsurprisingly, this is also a selling point for a lot of games these days that hope to recapture that magic – and the audiences who still crave it. Just released on November 14th, Red Blue Games’ first major title, Sparklite, is another contender for that whimsical nostalgia so many of us have.
A title with four years of development behind it, Sparklite features some gorgeous pixel artwork, local co-op, and excellent accessibility across a range of platforms. It’s probably also crossed your radar if you’ve been watching for new or upcoming indie titles this year.
Sparklite drops us in the fascinating world of Geodia – a world powered by (you guessed it!) sparklite. It can be harvested safely and properly, but unfortunately for some there’s never enough. Thanks to the Baron, too much sparklite is being taken, and it’s thrown the world into a bit of chaos. From monsters to a deteriorating environment, Geodia is in danger of being forever changed. Fortunately, it’s also defending itself – the world will constantly fracture and rearrange, shuffling places and people alike. You’ll take the place of Ada – a mechanic determined to stop the Baron’s plot before the world is forever changed for the worse.
It’s your job to adventure the surface of Geodia to collect sparklite, find tools, and help citizens in need. Along the way you’ll have to fight all sorts of monsters – an extra-challenging task when you start with barely anything. Anyone familiar with adventure games like Zelda will be familiar with the heart system featured in Sparklite. When Ada’s hearts are depleted, the Geodia will shift and Ada will be rescued back into the sky to recoup, regroup, and head back down into a new world to look for more resources.
Likely the first thing you’ll notice is that Sparklite is visually stunning. One of the true glories of adventure games has always been the beauty of different areas – when we talk about our old favourites, we often compare our favourite sections and places. We know the difference between the Dodongo caverns and Gerudo Valley (if you’re not Zelda-inclined, you can probably easily substitute your favourite cities and areas in other games). Sparklite does a great job at highlighting the different areas of the game – they’re beautiful and rather unique from one another. It definitely gives you the feeling that you’re experiencing the world of Geodia from corner to corner.
However, at the end of the day, the grind seems to be Sparklite’s main purpose, more than the journey. There’s some exploring, and the scenery is stunning, but for awhile you’re barred from really going wherever you want to and freely seeing the world. Your mileage on how long it takes to adventure further will vary based on your skill with weapons and whether you managed to find necessary people or items before you inevitably have to die to return to the surface again.
I did find myself tiring a little bit of packing up and starting over after making so much progress in a world sometimes. Hearts seem hard to come by, and sometimes whether or not you walk away with a new patch or reverse-engineered item can feel a lot like luck. It can also start to feel a little aimless – you go to your generated world, explore and unlock until you die, and are picked up to go rest, refresh, change up badges, and spend the money you found below.
This was a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, I absolutely loved the feeling of success that came with finding something new, or accomplishing something I’d failed at previously. The little victories – and big ones – feel so much more rewarding when you have to actually keep working for them. On the other hand… occasionally I got tired of doing what felt like the same thing over and over, and found myself needing a break from it all. For many gamers that likely won’t be a deterrent – for me it kept the game from being as addictive as I really wanted it to be. When I started I thought I’d be able to easily sit down and spend hours in the quirky, beautiful world of Sparklite. Unfortunately the same things that felt rewarding also sometimes got tiring, and I didn’t feel compelled to constantly keep going. With a rather light story, mechanics and gameplay really need to carry the player’s interest.
In good news, that makes this an easy game to pick up and put down as well – the fracturing of the world meant that I could easily do a run or two at a time, take a break, and come back to do more. It helped keep me from getting frustrated and bored if I was having an unlucky time with progress.
There are definitely things I liked a lot about Sparklite. I think local co-op is a lovely touch. It also features some gorgeous pixel artwork – it was always pretty to look at, and to listen to, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing new places and people because the game is so beautiful. The soundtrack – an absolutely necessary feature in a game like this – is just as enjoyable as the graphics and goes a long way toward creating the atmosphere of adventure. The gameplay felt smooth and polished on controller. For people used to the nostalgic side of top-down adventure gaming, it should be easy to pick up and just play. The difficulty comes purely from your enemies and the mechanics instead of fumbling with an uncooperative controller. In other words, it actually feels good to play. It wasn’t always enough to keep me going, but it definitely made the trips enjoyable.
For me, Sparklite is something I’ll likely return to at some point, but which I also found myself really needing a break from. For a different type of player who likes getting lost in the grind, I think it could be a lovely and engaging experience. You just have to know what you’re going into from the start to make the most of it.
Wanna check out Sparklite for yourself? You can find it on pretty much all the current platforms! Pick it up for $24.99 today on PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, or Switch (I especially think it would make for a comfy handheld adventure!)
Order Up! is a weekly column featuring indie-focused reviews, news, or interviews! We like old games just as much as new ones and are always looking for something to check out. Have a game recommendation, a project, or a company you want to talk about? Email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @ArcanaChance