Fans of 2D platformers have got it pretty good on the Switch. Into retro stuff? Super Mario Bros. 3, Donkey Kong Country and Yoshi’s Island are just one cheap subscription away. Something newer from Nintendo? Well, you’ve got Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Kirby Star Allies on tap just to name a few. How about something a little more indie? There’s this hidden gem called Celeste on the eShop (you might have heard of it), but you’ve also got greats like Slime-San, Super Meat Boy and The End is Nigh to try out. All of this is to say, a new 2D platformer has got some stiff competition to overcome if it wants to make a statement and prove to have any staying power, as there’s an abundance of excellent alternatives waiting in the wings.
Spinch is the rare sort of game that can only be described as odd. At its heart, this is just a simple, straightforward 2D platformer without much in the way of noteworthy new mechanics. It’s the kind of thing that one would expect to get swept away in the constant deluge of new game releases each week. For many, that’s exactly what will happen; this is a release that’ll come and go without so much as registering on the radar. To miss out on it, however, is to miss out on a tremendously enjoyable and memorable platformer that aggressively seizes your attention and doesn’t let it go.
In Spinch, you play as the titular, erm, Spinch, an agile little white ball that likes to Naruto Run to all its destinations. Our poor Spinch faces a problem, however, in how colour itself has seemingly turned against reality and has begun to feed off its brood of other, tinier Spinches. That’s not acceptable to our heroic Spinch, so it sets out on a quest to avoid as much colour as possible while gathering up its young, and it does this so that it can later shovel all of those young into a large cannon that is then fired upon the oppressive colour monsters. That’s about as far as the story goes, but it certainly does hit on some more fascinating notes than the tired ‘save the princess’ trope.
There are six worlds to traverse and each is comprised of a handful of main and bonus levels that culminate in a brief boss encounter. The main levels are where the meat of the experience lies, and they fortunately don’t disappoint. Each stage has a new gimmick or challenge that forces you to reassess how you approach the action, such as a stage in which you have to rush between small bunkers to escape that routine dropping of a rainbow screen nuke. Another sees you having to outrun a pack of rainbow worms that hide in the walls of a labyrinthine structure. Whatever it is, you’re always running madly and dashing this way and that, but the way in which Spinch pushes and prods you to do this is a continuous source of surprise and enjoyment.
A big part of the fun factor here is how tightly your Spinch controls. The Spinch can just about stop on a dime, but a big part of its kit is the all-important dash button mapped to the right trigger. A quick tap of the dash will give your Spinch a sudden burst of speed if its on the ground and a sort of half double jump if it’s in the air. The level design is all built around this simple mechanic though, and it evokes some of the design of the Genesis-era Sonic the Hedgehog games in how it treats speed as a reward for good play. You can treat Spinch as just another stop-and-go platformer, but the full experience is only found in tearing forth at a breakneck speed and learning just how precisely-timed jumps and boosts have to be in order to pull off that perfect run. It’s exhilarating, to say the least, and levels go by quick enough that you can’t help but feel tempted to go back in to try beating your best time as soon as you finish.
Spinch is not a release for the faint of heart, however; this can be an immensely punishing quest, particularly in its latter few worlds. Once the early levels have gotten you accustomed to the cadence and rhythm of the level design, the latter levels waste no time in ripping the training wheels off and ratcheting the difficulty up to eleven. Levels still feel fair, but the margin for error is kept painfully thin, which means there will be many a time in which you get sent back to a checkpoint which sometimes feels like it’s placed a little too far back. It’s not quite Super Meat Boy in terms of its cruelty, but Spinch is definitely up there, meaning that this is a game which will only be fully enjoyed by platforming veterans.
Its platforming mechanics are as tightly made as one could hope, then, but the element that most sets Spinch apart from the pack is that art style. Jesse Jacobs surely let his imagination run wild when he was doing the art for this release, as every screen is near packed to bursting with bizarre, wide-eyed faces vomiting rainbows all over the isometric environments. The world of Spinch is delightfully strange and chaotic in its composition, and each new world brings with it a whole litany of new background designs and horrifying rainbow creatures for you to feast your eyes on. Screenshots don’t quite do these visuals justice, it’s the kind of thing that you simply have to see on a live screen to get the full effect. Suffice to say, there’s simply nothing else like Spinch on the eShop at the time of writing, and this is a prime example of how games can be art in motion.
Unfortunately, for all it does right, Spinch notably stumbles in its performance, which can be disappointingly sub-par in places. Odd examples such as the fact that the analogue stick only works when playing in handheld or how sudden slowdown can rear its head when the screen gets busy bog down this otherwise wonderful experience. That latter issue is especially heinous, as the pixel-perfect platforming required by some of the harder levels can be completely thrown off by an odd snag in the framerate and cause unfair deaths. The developers have said that they’re aware of the issues and that a patch is forthcoming, but as of time of writing, this has yet to go live.
Bright, technicolour visuals, punishing difficulty, excellent level design and tight controls are all hallmarks of this deliciously enjoyable sugar rush. Spinch is a short but sweet experience and one that certainly proves itself to be worthy of both your time and money. Although it’s regrettably marred by early launch performance issues, Spinch is an otherwise wonderful platformer that we’d highly recommend to anybody who just can’t get enough of the genre.