Sparklite is an indie roguelite that offers great progression mechanics to a much-loved genre. It has flaws, but fans need not worry.
Sparklite is a top-down roguelite that features a really solid take on player progression above an interesting storyline. Its shortcomings keep it from being a perfect adventure, but rogue-like genre fans will find plenty to enjoy in this effectively-made package.
The story starts aboard an airship caught in a storm. Ada, the titular character, boards an escape pod that crashes down on Geodia. Without spoiling the plot (and there is a thin yet striking plot to enjoy), Ada's quickly thrown to the wolves in a boss fight she cannot win. The battle ends in "death," Ada is grabbed by a claw machine and brought up to a floating camp that will serve as the hub world.
Here's where the hook for Sparklite immediately sets in. The game is, in a word, a grind. Ada needs Sparklite, the local power source and currency, to open up shops and upgrade her abilities and equipment. She can only get Sparklite from Geodia's surface. Players will drop down to the surface, explore a bit, fight as much as they can, try to survive and gather Sparklite. Eventually, they'll have enough to expand a ship, upgrade a specific utility, apply a patch or build a gadget. Then they'll head back down to the surface in order to do it again.
Roguelikes are built on randomization and permadeath. Roguelites take advantage of some of these genre staples while eschewing others in order to make players feel a better sense of progression through gameplay. Sparklite enters roguelite territory with it's collect, die, upgrade, repeat approach to design. That's where Sparklite truly excels. Players will move, screen-to-screen ala The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, hack and slash through enemies and take on area bosses on their way to conquering the game. They'll die a lot, but each death is met with the chance to upgrade Ada's abilities, and that makes diving back into the fray even better.
As mentioned, Ava has access to gadgets built from blueprints. In order to gather blueprints, though, she needs to conquer small dungeon-esque challenges. The gadgets are introduced, and then a few rooms of progressing difficulty push Ada to learn how to use the gadgets before she can leave. Once she succeeds, Ada will be able to build the gadgets back up in the hub world. It's a nice break between the exploration and hack and slash combat that winds up welcome in the adventure.
Sparklite doesn't arrive entirely without issues. In terms of performance on the Nintendo Switch, the game's hub sees sizable framerate dips in an otherwise solid experience. Combat, too, falters thanks to the speed of enemies and the way Ada moves. Bosses can be really, really fast. Ada's walk, on the other hand, is rather slow. She does have a dash ability, but frustration rears its head thanks to the pause Ada takes after dashing. Without that pause, the game would feel so much better, but the dash as it stands today is too frustratingly so. It took several frustrating rounds to conquer some of the bosses thanks to this maneuver, and that soured the game a bit.
Finally, the randomness of this adventure isn't really random enough for the genre. Every time Ada drops down to Geodia in one of the five major areas, the layouts all change. However, while the layouts change, the screens stay the same. So, it's players will wind up hitting the same screens dozens and dozens of times as they explore the world, and that can really get boring as the experience rolls on. Sparklite marks a strong, new effort in the rogue-lite genre. Its flaws are noticeable, but they won't get in the way of genre fans' enjoyment.
Sparklite releases November 14, 2019, for PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. A Switch code was provided for the purposes of review.