Sparklite is a charming action-adventure game that channels the Zelda franchise whilst satisfyingly differentiating itself and establishing its own quirks and nuances. Players will find something both familiar and new here, but what everyone will definitely agree on is that this is an instant classic.
In Sparklite, players take on the role of Ada, a young woman whose airship has been destroyed over the lands of Geodia. Over the course of the game players will guide Ada as she strives to defeat the Baron, an evil overlord who is attempting to completely disrupt the land, forcing the last few inhabitants to seek refuge in a town held up by balloons in the sky.
The core gameplay loop of Sparklite revolves around players descending onto Geodia's surface in order to locate and defeat the Baron's Titans – huge monstrosities that have become twisted and mutated by their surroundings. The journey begins in the Vinelands, an area filled with weaker enemies optimal for farming, and gradually moves through more hazardous areas such as the Acid Bog and a dangerous desert. As players progress through each area, they’ll pick up new items and patches, but eventually they will be defeated by the constant grind of fighting enemies.
It’s at this point that Sparklite reveals itself as a rogue-lite, returning players to the hub in the sky between each run on Geodia. In the sky hub, it’s possible to enhance Ada with patches which can increase her health with additional quarter hearts, give her armour, or boost the amount of damage she deals; areas which can all be individually upgraded. It’s also possible to earn patches that show the location of Titans on the game’s map, or reveal a particular biome’s map. Players need to decide whether it’s more important to have an idea of each square of the map, or if it’s better to deal increased damage, have more health, or just more energy for their gadgets.
Dropping back down to Geodia reveals a completely different landscape, one that has been reshaped by fractures since players were defeated. In this way, Sparklite weaves the mechanics of a rogue-lite into its story, but if you're not a fan of this sub-genre and its proclivity for randomness, fear not – it’s so well done that it only adds to the title’s charm.
Each time players return to Geodia they are better-equipped thanks to the enhancements made between runs, and the titular Sparklite they’ve gathered. Sparklite is a currency, and it’s used for everything, from purchasing new patches at the hub’s medical centre to upgrading each of the vendors around that same hub. It’s worth returning to Geodia on a run that will prove fruitless in the pursuit of killing a Titan, just to gain the required Sparklite to unlock more space for patches, another table for enemy research, or a new workbench for gadget crafting.
Gadgets are the third part of Ada’s arsenal in Sparklite, in addition to her hammer and the items found around Geodia. These gadgets are found in vaults – ancient tombs left by a creator race – and provide a range of benefits and uses. Some items, such as the Spark Slinger, can be used to hit switches and unlock more chests around Geodia, but others, like the Spark Blitzer, provide a great way to hit enemies from range. Just like Ada, gadgets can be enhanced with patches, making for a formidable set of weapons if players spec Ada out appropriately.
The gameplay in Sparklite feels fun and flows just like a Zelda title. This connection to Nintendo famous series is only enhanced by the game’s graphics, which call to mind The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap. Sparklite is clearly indebted to classic 2D Zelda games, and it isn’t shy about it, either. Sparklite is its own thing, that much is true, but the way the enemies look and move is instantly reminiscent of the foes encountered in Zelda outings. The fact that Ada’s life is increased by a quarter of a heart at a time also indicates the Zelda link (no pun intended). Don't get us wrong, however; it’s not that Sparklite looks and plays like a rip-off, far from it. This title wears its influences on its sleeve, and it’s all the better for it, bringing players in on the joke without outright copying other games.
Sparklite begins as a single-player game, but after the first boss has been defeated it’s possible to play in co-op. One player can control Ada, while the other controls her flying robotic sidekick, though player two will be restricted to collecting Sparklite, and the abilities unlocked for the robot so far. It might be fun to involve a friend for a short time, but Sparklite definitely feels more like a single-player title at its core than a game to be played almost exclusively with someone else.
This game has a lot of great qualities, but a caveat to these is the difficulty spikes players will undoubtedly experience. Certain bosses are far more challenging than others – almost artificially so – and the final boss has a certain stage to it that adds difficulty through tedium more than anything. This is disappointing, because bosses have long been a highlight of Zelda games, and it seems as though certain Titans that should be great crescendos in Sparklike have missed the mark slightly; it's one part of the homage that Sparklite can't quite nail.
However, while difficulty can be an issue, it’s possible to overcome any challenge by paying attention to patches and investing in the hub town. By upgrading the store, players have access to a greater range of items to start each run with. By spending some time organising, upgrading, and even purchasing new patches for Ada, it's possible to create a character build that will stand up to the current challenge far better than they could without putting in this essential work. These mechanics are what make Sparklite come into its own, and that’s where it outshines any of the games it’s inspired by.
Finally, it’s impossible to talk about Sparklite without also humming one of the memorable theme tunes found in each area. The sound design in the game is on par, if not better, than any other game on the Switch. Each piece of music adds personality to a biome and boss fight, making the moment-to-moment gameplay feel distinct and separate, no matter what is happening on screen.
Sparklite is a fantastic rogue-lite adventure title that provides a nostalgia hit for 2D Zelda fans without feeling like a bad copy. The game’s rich world fuses mechanics and story without it feeling obnoxious, and the cast of characters are lovable and well-rounded, with each one standing out from the crowd. By the end, players will be begging for more, even if the final road is a little bumpy with some awkward difficulty spikes. Geodia is a world no one wants to leave by the end, but it’s one that’s enjoyable to return to again and again.