A 2D Zelda Roguelike that comes up short of greatness.
I typically loath comparing games to those that came before it but in certain cases there’s just no getting around it. Sparklite is what you would imagine a 2D Zelda title would feel like if it became a roguelike. Aside from missing the pink hair and Master Sword it does for the most part, stay true to the Zelda formula with a gorgeous design and really nailing the feeling of movement and combat. However, the implementation of the roguelike elements is where Sparklite begins to falter as the lack of meaningful exploration and the disappointing boss battles prevent it from becoming a truly masterful experience.
Sparklite begins when the young hero Ada, an engineer travelling with her robot assistant, crash lands her ship in the land of Geodia after a group of slimes corrode the hull. Separated from her companion, Ada explores the area until she comes upon a Titan, a nasty villain seeking an ancient power to exploit. After an initial defeat, Ada is rescued by the Refuge, a group of individuals hiding from the Baron and his gang of Titans, searching for a way to save their homeland from the evil that has infested it.
Just like a certain Hylian hero, Ada takes up the cause to rid the land of evil and sets out to explore Geodia in search of Sparklite, an energy source that allows Ada to create new inventions and expand her inventory. Combat feels much like you would expect as Ada moves and swings her wrench much like Link and the Master Sword. A number of Shrines inspired by Breath of the Wild provide both blueprints and training for a number of additional weapons such as a Crossbow, floating bombs, or even a device that allows for breathing underwater. A number of gadgets are found within random chests provide even more firepower, so there’s never any shortage of ways to dispose of enemies.
The world map is a series of five interconnected areas all with their own themes: Grass, Forest, Sand, etc. At the beginning of a playthrough, Ada is dropped off at the anchor point in the grass themed area that acts as a hub for all the surrounding areas. The tiles for each area are procedurally generated, so every time Ada is defeated the tiles for each area are shuffled, meaning the location of boss or shrine you discovered is no longer where you found it. Each area is only about 20 or so tiles so the constant shifting doesn’t become frustrating, and a map in the menu is redrawn as you rediscover each tile. What becomes somewhat frustrating, is that after each death and restart, Ada is dropped back off at the anchor point in the main hub. So if you happened to die in the forest to the east, you need to traverse through the grasslands until you discover the entrance. It’s not an overly long process but can feel redundant after awhile.
The procedural generation is a neat addition meant to increase replayability but sacrifices character to achieve this. None of the areas feel like they have any character, and apart from different aesthetics and new enemies, it largely feels like you’re exploring the same areas over and over. Each of the 5 themed areas have a shrine that provides a new gadget, a mine containing a gauntlet of enemies with a large chest as its reward, and the dungeon which houses the Titan for that area. The insides of all these locations are very limited, with very little time spent in them and all of which look and feel the same. The dungeons containing the boss Titans is just a room in which the battle takes place, you don’t solve any puzzles or defeat any monsters to get to them, you just walk in the door and the battle begins.
The lack of explorable dungeons only extenuates the shallow feeling of the boss battles. Each of the Titans has a look and weapons that are roughly based upon the theme of the area they are located in. It typically only took me one or two attempts at a Titan to figure out the pattern and time my attacks accordingly as there movements are strict and predictable. It got to the point where I could essentially not worry about finding power ups for Ada since the bosses could be defeated without my character taking much damage.
Sparklite does an exemplary job of taking what works from the 2D Zelda genre but putting their own unique look and feel to the design. Where it falters is that the maps and dungeons that are a joy to explore in the Legend of Zelda have been replaced with dull and monotonous procedural generation. The discovery of new items and the different ways you can defeat enemies are enough to recommend Sparklite to those who are fans of the genre, the lack of meaningful exploration unfortunately prevents it from becoming a must-play title.