Reviews

The Splatters – Review

Xbox Live Arcade Title
Price: 800MSP
Developers: SpikySnail
Publisher: SpikySnail
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No

Thanks to SpikySnail for providing a copy of this game for review.

Being a Splatter is a tough life. As the stars of SpikySnails new game their only reason for existence is to be hurled around a 2D landscape in an attempt to score as many points as possible before, well, being splattered against a hard surface or even spikes and sending their liquidy insides raining down upon the scenery in a horrifying yet hugely amusing splash of color. They’re like Lemmings, but with absolutely no chance of salvation, because the heartless bastard hurling those innocent Splatters around the map, my friend, is you, and you, as a gamer, are a bit evil, really. The poor buggers don’t stand a chance, but at least they’re smiling all the way!

What  The Splatters is, then, is a rather interesting, if possibly sadistic, take on the physics-based puzzle genre, challenging you to use your suicidal little jelly-like minions to complete each level by detonating a series of “bombs” that are strewn around each map, with the only way to do that being to douse them with the liquid insides of the aforementioned, and unlucky, minions. But while you can just complete each level by detonating the bombs and chucking the poor Splatters about the place, much the real charm of The Splatters comes from good old-fashioned points scoring and the desire to repeat levels to get that coveted 3-star ranking and improve skills so that you can move up the leaderboards and, more importantly, rub your friends face in how much better you are than them. Chaining together different moves and techniques, such as using one of the slides dotted around the levels to pull off a loop or dive bombing a bomb cluster, scores you points and builds up your multiplier. Once you’ve successfully smashed one of your slimy heroes into a wall or some spikes you’ve got a limited to launch the next Splatter or you’ll lose your precious multiplier. And so levels can go from simply trying to destroy all the bombs to progress, to carefully working out how to chain together a series of stunts into a beautiful run that maximizes your points before you’ve even launched your first poor blob at a wall. 

Bombs are color-coded, so only Splatters of the matching color can destroy them

That’s not to say that it’s all about the points, though, as The Splatters actually features three different modes: the first is simply titled Become a Talent and serves as the games tutorial section, carefully teaching you the techniques that are required to advance and the many subtleties, most of which are hard to actually describe, of the game. Once you’ve glooped your way through all of those levels you’ll unlock two more modes, with the first, titled Combo-Nation , focusing on the art of linking together moves and stunts, and as such is a fast-paced mode as you quickly hurl your Splatters around the place like some sort of crazed monkey. Get your combo chain high enough and you’ll earn that coveted 3-medal rating and the right to claim that you’re awesome. Oh, and you’ll unlock more levels, but that’s just minor compared to bragging rights. The second of the modes is Master Shots, and just like its subtle name suggests it focuses more on the “puzzle” aspects of the game. Each level contains just one blob of goo to work with and to advance you must not only destroy all the bombs in the level but also complete a series of set maneuvers. If that wasn’t enough the ability to reposition your little blob by hopping is turned off. It’s in this mode that I spent the majority of my time, enjoying the challenge of getting my angles just right and working out exactly how best to approach each new challenge.

 To accomplish all of this physics based nonsense  you’ll need to utilize the games simple but intuitive control system which uses the least amount of buttons that it possibly can, which in a game where you’re frantically trying to control a blob of jelly hurtling through the air at high-speed is certainly a good thing.  a simple tap of A lets your blob hop around so that you can, assuming your not playing Master Shots, reposition him (or her. It’s hard to be sure with these Splatters) for the best shot. Hold down A and you can launch your mobile jelly at varying force, while another tap of A mid-flight activates the “air-strike” mode, which essentially means your blob hits ballistic speeds for maximum impact. Using this trick you can quickly re-adjust your little minions flight trajectory, and if you want to get really fancy you can even tap A a final time for even more insane speed and, if your quick enough, yet another trajectory change. But these little tricks aren’t interesting ones, oh no. That honor belongs to the LT trigger which at first almost seems to rewind time, but the truth is that it actually allows you to reverse the momentum of everything on-screen. Just stop and think about that for a moment: you can use it to build up speed on a slide, drench a bomb-chain that you didn’t quite get on the initial impact and much more. At first this little momentum change can be tough to get the hang of amidst the gloopy carnage on-screen, but learning to use it properly is vital for success. There’s a great degree of satisfaction to be taken from combining momentum shifts, trajectory changes, slides and dive bombs into one single, fluid move, even if the things can be a little imprecise at times. Mastering the games mechanics, simply said, is great fun.

But therein lies the problem: once you’ve got those mechanics nailed down there’s not really much else to the game to keep you interested and playing for long periods of time. After a few hours of playing it really feels like another mechanic or a new style of level design should be getting added to keep things going, but nothing is forthcoming and you just continue to use the same techniques over and over on levels that feel pretty samey. The level designs themselves are solid, but it generally feels like more could have been done with them, and it certainly isn’t helping that levels often tend to get repeated: sure, the placement of blobs and bombs varies, but aesthetically they’re the same. The gameplay just needs something more to keep it engrossing for the considerable time it actually takes to get through the games three modes, and while the mechanics are definitely satisfying and fun they did begin to drag around the five or six-hour mark. In other words, it’s a game that should be played in small doses. But then you venture onto the leaderboards which supports the ability to download the  replays of the best players in the world and watch how they link together beautiful sequences into one awe-inspiring super runs that score so many points that if you entered them into a freaking calculator it would give up and go home. And then suddenly the repetition of the gameplay is gone, replaced by the desire to again climb the leaderboards and assume your rightful place as king of the Splatters, utilising the knowledge gained from watching the pros thanks to the handy fact that the replays also show the exact controller inputs used to achieve those ludicrous scores.

However, actually replicating those inputs generally proves to be a bit of a problem, because while the games physics system is rather beautiful to behold in motion, it’s also a tad inconsistent. Most physics based puzzles do attempt to make their physics as consistent as possible so that players can replicate previous techniques, but in The Slatters  there’s no guarantee that the game will give you the same outcome as before. Not helping is the fact that the controls are quite imprecise at times. It’s easy to see where you want to hit, but actually hitting it precisely is far tougher than it should be  and as such replicating a shot you made previously can be challenging. But once you do manage to pull off the same shot that brought you success before it can be extremely frustrating to have just a single little bomb that you got the last time go bouncing away to the other side of the map because the physics system decided that this time things are going to be a little bit different. It can also be a bit of a pain in the ass to try to predict what the physics system is actually going to do. If you’ve got a string of bombs to demolish, trying to judge how much splatter you’ll actually get and where you need to strike to achieve the desired effect is mostly just guess-work rather than patient learning throughout the levels. Common sense would suggest that the more you play the game the better you’ll be at judging the amount of splatter and where to strike, but that’s just not the case. The end result is that luck often feels like it has more impact on whether you clear levels than skill, which in a game of this style doesn’t really fit. I might have just cleared that tricky level where strings of bombs were made into a smiley face, but I’m really not that sure on how I actually beat it.

Perhaps the most telling element of The Splatters, though, is that I never found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t playing it. To me the hallmark of a good puzzler, physics based or not, is when it has me thinking about how to complete that challenging level when I’m reading a book or eating my lunch. It should almost be like an addiction and as soon as I think of the solution I should want to run back to my Xbox, turn on the game and implement my ingenious plan. But I didn’t get that with The Splatters.

Still, at least it all looks bloody good! The Splatters isn’t going to be taxing your console, but the visual style it employs is clean, simple and bright. Your little innocent blobs explode into lovely splashes of color as they brutally smash into spikes. It’s a sort of cartoony way of making the genocide of a jelly-race okay. Don’t worry kids, they may all be dying, their insides splattered on the ground for our amusement, but at least it’s in bright colors! And look, they smile all the time! And it all takes place on levels that make absolutely zero sense. For some reason there’s a football wedged in the scenery of one level, or some other random item that makes no sense, but providing you don’t question the logic of all this, and how can you when you’re playing a game that involves smiling blobs of jelly, then all you really need to know is that it looks great!

I end this review as I started it, grinning at thought of little blobs of jelly hurling themselves around the landscape simply because I demanded it for my own amusement. They do so with smiles on their faces because ultimately they’re the stars of a solid physics based puzzler that is definitely worth giving a shot, especially since, and I can never repeat this enough, you can download the trial for free! But having said that, The Splatters is also a flawed game that could have done with a bit more polish to the physics and some more inventive level designs to keep it feeling fresh and fun.

The Good:
+ Splatters are just cute.
+ Nailing a level in one smooth combo
+ It’s bright!

The Bad:
– The controls are imprecise.
– Often random nature can be a pain.
– Restarting a level because that one bomb went and hid in a corner.

The Score:

Graphics: 8.5
Technically it’s nothing impressive, but the bright, clean visual style looks great.

Sound: 7
The background music is exactly that, in the background. You don’t really notice it but it does its job well enough, as does the sound effects.

Story: 0
SPLAT!

Gameplay: 6.5
Great fun for the first couple of hours, but after that repetition sinks in. IN other words, it’s a great game in short bursts.

Lifespan: 8
Plenty of stages to clear and leaderboard addiction to combat. This should last you a good while, especially if you’re smart and play it in small doses.

The Verdict: 7
The Splatters is pretty much the definition of a game that should be played in short doses. Pick it up, play through a few stages and then switch it back off because otherwise the gameplay just doesn’t have the depth to support continuous play for hours on end. But in those short doses you should have plenty of fun.

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