Eye of Newt-on
The physics-based puzzler is alive and well. BNBGAMING has seen it firsthand more and more lately, from my playthrough of the amazing Puddle to my colleague Tom’s even more recent outing with Fibble on iOS. Each of these games holds a tight focus on advancing to your destination or achieving a certain feat while adhering to Newtonian laws and finding a way of making concepts like inertia and gravity work side-by-side with you. No Mario-esque changing-direction-in-mid-jump abilities here. And while SpikySnail’s new offering for the 360 certainly uses the laws of physics to drive its gameplay, it’s unfortunately not enough to sustain a whole game due to requiring a mix of absurd precision and test-and-repeat gameplay, and offering little in the way of expanded gameplay concepts beyond the core ideas the game presents at its outset.
Right from the start, it’s refreshingly clear that this game doesn’t take itself too seriously. The titular Splatters are a breed of amorphous blob-like shapes with maniacal grins whose only purpose and goal in life is to go out with a flashy bang…literally. Players will send Splatters flying across the screen, skillfully aiming for and around various obstacles, with the ultimate aim of smashing the jiggling guys into walls, spikes, etc, causing them to explode in a splash of liquid. The trick here is to time and pick the location of your Splatter’s demise in such a way that its liquid will douse special orbs, which, when drenched by Splatter-guts, will explode themselves. Detonate all bombs in a level to move on; fail to do so and restart the level.
It’s Raining Splatter!
Once you’ve acquainted yourself with the deceptively simple goal of the game, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the arsenal of abilities that each of your Splatters has to let you get them from point A to point kablooey! The Splatters will stick to any surface they’re put on, but once an object is in motion it will tend to keep going until forced to stop by an obstacle. This is where the game’s physics come into play. If you can maneuver your Splatter onto a curved ramp, it will gleefully take the slide and follow it till it gets launched into uncertain oblivion. Once airborne, you do have a modicum of control over where to land (impact) your Splatter; coast through the air, then make the Splatter instantly take off in a new direction at rocket-speeds is necessary to angle up for the most successful impacts. Just remember that, in order to make a big splash, you need big speed.
Eventually, you’re also given access to a Reverse feature; it’s easy to mistake this for a rewind button mid-play, but it actually acts quite differently. At any given point, you and all other items in motion on the screen can be made to move, with the current speed and trajectory, in the exactly opposite reaction. You can literally go back-and-forth with this feature over and over again, but far from a “fix it” button, this ability will not reset objects once you’ve made a careless mistake, just move them in opposing directions. If it sounds hard to wrap your brain around, that’s because even in practice it’s difficult to figure something like this into your planning for a stage ahead of time.
In fact, the unpredictable outcomes of a level, once things are set in motion, is a bit of a drawback. Too often I found myself perform the exact same actions time after time (or at least as close to identical as is humanly possible), but a slight difference in variables in some physics equation would net me wildly unpredictable results each time. This means that, even in a game so closely adhering to the laws of the universe, a certain amount of guesswork and trial-and-error is unavoidable. The success or failure of an entire level can depend on making razor-sharp-accurate decisions about which angle to have your Splatter jet off in; hit a ramp or choose a flight trajectory just a hair off and your move, which would otherwise have netted a glorious finish, will instead result in a grisly disemboweling of Jell-O where it isn’t needed. A simple fix would have been to use a line tracking the flight path of a Splatter before it’s confirmed, instead of just a directional arrow you can rotate around the creature.
In the Doldrums
Aside from the game’s propensity to make you replay levels until you can time everything perfectly or catch a lucky break, the real issue with the game, for me, was the lack of diversity in the gameplay department. Sure, you can launch, slide, and reverse your Splatter through each stage, and no two stages are exactly alike as far as layout is concerned. But once you’ve gotten through the first of the game’s three modes, which unlocks the other two upon completion, you’ve gained all the abilities you’re going to get. You’ll be using them to complete each of the game’s remaining 53 levels. Whether you choose to participate in Combo Nation mode – which asks you to string together combos of moves to complete each screen – or Master Shots modes – which has you detonate all bombs by using a prescribed set of skills in each level -, the gameplay in each and every stage is essentially exactly the same.
Even levels with different-colored Splatters don’t offer much variation. Rather than a certain shade of Splatter having unique attributes, those levels simply require you to detonate similarly colored bombs with the matching type of Splatter. While adding a small amount of extra strategy to the mix, the repetitive nature of the puzzles remains palpable, and makes this game something that can only be experienced in small doses, if at all. Even the silly, cartoony music begins to grate on the nerves sooner rather than later – don’t even think of pausing and walking away for a few moments, as the slapstick loop will reverberate throughout your house incessantly.
The Final Verdict
The bright and pretty visuals of The Splatters belie an experience suffering from not enough variation in the gameplay. Once the first dozen or so tutorial levels have been completed, it becomes a matter of rinse and repeat, and after only 65 screens total, you’ve experienced everything The Splatters has on offer. Without a multiplayer or co-op feature present, the game’s “Splatter TV” option, which records your gameplay and lets you share it online, becomes the only way to interact with the world outside of the game’s confines. Unfortunately, with no filter or built-in watermark for what videos can be uploaded, the servers could soon find themselves overburdened with repetitive videos laced with deaths and mishaps, making the whole experience unwatchable.
The Splatters incorporates likable design elements and a quirky idea, but doesn’t provide any backbone to carry the disparate pieces as a cohesive whole. Those that love the first three or so levels may get some enjoyment out of this title; all others, beware being slimed!