When you look at some games, you can immediately tell exactly what inspired them. Sparklite is a good example. It clearly wants to pay tribute to early The Legend of Zelda games, where you looked down a world from overhead, fought off enemies with an array of tools, and gradually saw things open up as you found more equipment. But, it also wants to pull from roguelikes to force you to fall into a loop where you fight as hard and as long as you can, until you fall and are forced to regroup, then return. It works, for the most part, though some issues can appear as people play.
Ada was flying around with robot friend when her ship began falling apart. She crashed to the planet’s surface below, separated from her friend. Things only got worse from there. A Baron and his minions have corrupted the world around them, animals have essentially been mutated, and the ground is in a quaking state of flux. People are forced to take refuge in a floating city. While things seem bad, Ada continually heads down to the surface to defeat the Baron’s minions and collect sparklite minerals to create the items she needs to turn things around.
While this is a roguelike, for the most part Sparklite plays similarly to a top-down The Legend of Zelda game. Ada has a wrench constantly equipped and can pick up widget items or eventually craft new technology. She has a certain number of hearts determining how strong she is, though you can also buy and acquire patches that make her stronger and buff certain abilities. Enemies lurk in the overworld, puzzles can show up from time to time, and bosses display particular patterns that must be learned to be defeated. While being forced back to the hub does “reset” things down below, the general landmasses and rooms remain the same, just in a different order. It feels familiar, but fresh.
It is also great how Sparklite constantly calls back to Ada being technologically minded. Her wrench isn’t for show! When you come across a kind of technology on the surface, you go through a brief tutorial showing how it works. This means a few rooms of puzzles where you work out how to use something simple, like a bow with arrows, or a more complex device like bomb attached to a balloon that you can control so long as you hold the X button down. Once you “master” it, Ada can reverse engineer it in the workshop, as an excuse to explain why she suddenly has these extra abilities.
There were only two things that really bothered me about Sparklite. One is the way it handles exploring. After Ada heads down to Geodia’s surface, there’s no easy way to return to the floating hub. Even though you can see the anchor on the map, the only way to get back up there and retain your progress is to either die or successfully defeat a boss. (You could also opt to exit, but everything you had done on the surface is lost.) None of these options allow you to keep any of the widgets you had found. Considering Shiren the Wanderer and so many roguelikes offer you an item that lets you return, it seemed counterintuitive to restrict people in such a way.
Another downside is, the Sparklite Switch version seemed to constantly crash on me. When I went back to face Boris the Tunneling Titan for the second time, the game crashed when I walked into the room to face him. It happened again after I got the Muck Buster from defeating Scubert the Ironclad Titan. After I entered the door at the back of the room to leave the boss’s room, the screen went to black, then crashed. I tried completely uninstalling, then reinstalling the game, but eventually still encountered an occasional crash. Since it only saves what happens when you properly exit or are brought up to the hub again, well, it was frustrating to lose quite a bit of progress.
The crashing issue with the Sparklite Switch version aside, it is a capable little The Legend of Zelda-like. There’s a feedback loop there that can be rewarding, though it isn’t without its frustrations. It has a good look to it and a promising idea that will likely click with people who like procedurally generated adventures and seeing how far they can push themselves before being forced to go back and regroup.
Sparklite is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.