Is a platformer still a platformer when you don't actually jump on any platforms? That's just one of the (rather pointless) questions we found ourselves pondering whilst playing Spectrum. It says a fair amount about the general Spectrum experience. For one thing, that question references the fact that this is an odd sort of speed-running platformer where your blob-like hero can 'jump' an unlimited number of times from any point in the air throughout each abstract 2D level.
For another, it tells you that this is the kind of zoned-out experience that lulls you into a liminal state between attentiveness and inattentiveness. You never really have to think in Spectrum, only to react, which leaves your brain free to wander. It's a game that scratches a very particular kind of arcade-style itch. The closest thing you'd probably liken Spectrum to is Badland. It's got a similar tap-to-fly control system to Frogmind's beautiful game, and the same simple imperative to get to the level exit. But Spectrum's levels are far less naturalistic, more fiendishly sculpted, and just plain harder than Badland's. While you're free to butt up against the blank sections of the levels here, any contact with this world's many coloured sections will cause your blob damage.
With an increasing number of moving elements seeking to crush, obstruct, and throw off your little blob, levels essentially amount to infernal obstacle courses. Some even resemble those precarious steady-hand games that ask you to guide a metal loop along a twisty piece of wire. Fortunately, you're given an extra tool to aid your progress in the shape of an inverted jump, which enables you to surge downwards rather than burst upwards. This is given its own button right alongside jump. Not only does this enable you to swim against the anti-gravitational tide (or is it wind?) of certain sections, but it also empowers you to fall through certain vertical sections faster, speeding up your run significantly.
Indeed, one of your primary goals is to finish each stage as quickly as possible. Another is to avoid damage, while you also get graded on the number of glowing orbs you managed to collect from each stage. If this is all sounding and looking very simplistic, then that's because it is. Spectrum is brutally sparse in pretty much every way, from its limited level selection to its minimalistic graphical style and its starkly repetitive electronica soundtrack.
It feels a lot like a smartphone game, in fact. Funnily enough, that's precisely what it originally was. Spectrum initially hit app stores at the beginning of 2015, when every second game seemed to be a 'flappy' flier of some sort. That needn't be a negative, of course - the aforementioned Badland itself started out in a similar fashion. But while Frogmind's game had a rich, enticing world that was more than up to the task of making the transition to console, Spectrum doesn't fit quite as snugly.
Sure, this Switch version gets the addition of a local two-player race mode, which is quite a lot of fun in its own limited way. Dashing to the level exit and gobbling up dots feels a lot more satisfying when it's at the expense of another player's progress. But it's not enough to make Spectrum feel like a fully fleshed out Switch game. Ultimately, the Spectrum experience as a whole just feels a little too sparse and clinical for its own good. Even at a price that technically positions it as a budget game, we find ourselves questioning Spectrum's true value.
Spectrum is a fiendishly challenging, super-stripped-back action-platformer that shows its smartphone origins a little too evidently. It's fun in small doses, but it doesn't quite feel fleshed out enough for a modern Switch game.