HIGH Watching skillful players show their stuff in the game's TV Mode is pretty impressive.
LOW "GAAAAHH. It's one tiny, stupid bomb! Please don't make me start over......."
WTF We got a new gaming genre! The Flying-Blobs-Exploding-Into-Liquid-to-Set-Off-Bombs-type!
It's nice when a game gets right to it. In this modern age, where even the smallest of small puzzle games can be inundated with large backstories or copious window dressings, it's reassuring to play digital entertainment that remains pure and simple. SpikySnail's new game The Splatters is a physics puzzler that makes no bones about being a straight-up action puzzle game, and that's refreshing. Unfortunately, the slippery core mechanics and odd characters drain away its ability to have some lasting impact.
The Splatters sees players taking control of strange smiling blobs intent on destroying themselves as quickly and entertainingly as possible. The splatters are flung across small, enclosed arenas at clusters of tiny, sticky bombs—when the blobs come to a stop, their bodies explode into liquid, setting off said bombs. Points are earned for quickly and efficiently setting off these explosions, and bonuses are earned by employing various "stunts" while in-flight.
The game's central mechanics first emphasize the few, basic stunt staples needed in order to unlock more complicated levels. Once those are completed, progress and high scores become inseparable from the game's "Flip" feature, whereby motion is reversed for the splatters and certain explosives. This manipulation ability can be used as much as is desired and enables the player to compound the splatters' speed to fling them effectively across the board. This mechanic is where the game lives once the early levels are complete, and correct usage of it is the only way to fully progress.
The Splatters is reasonable, competent puzzling that offers decent challenge and some nice tension. High score junkies will fall for this game intensely if they find the mechanics to their liking. This was an issue for me, however, as the game never caught me in the ways that good puzzle games do. The simple rules are easy to understand, yet precision is hard to come by without a large amount of practice.
In my five hours with the game, I could rarely seem to replicate the complicated shots I needed on the later sections in order to progress. Each level is separated into three rounds, and it can really burn when late screw-ups necessitate constant re-dos. While learning and perfecting the mechanics are central to a game like this, its finicky rules about blowing up the bombs in each level add to the frustration.
This frustration mostly stems from the aforementioned Flip mechanic. The Flip, while sometimes very useful, doesn't seem to stick to its own rules. While detached bombs will fly in reverse when time is turned back, large clusters will not. While this can be undoubtedly helpful at times, this reviewer was perennially unsure which direction his bombs would fly. Combine it with the quickly evaporating liquid form needed to set off the game's bombs, and it easily leads feelings of lost control and general harrumphing all around.
It's worth noting that frustrating control issues may seem lessened if a game's presentation does the heavy lifting, but sadly, The Splatters can't exactly smooth those corners. The style here is undoubtedly meant to excite and delight: menus are flashy, sounds are loud, and the titular, jovial characters cackle with glee as they're flung about the board. It all should add up to more than it does, but the core concept failed to grab my imagination. Gaming may be full of ridiculous concepts, but blobs exploding into liquid to make tiny bombs go off simply does not have much emotional resonance. Even in similar games like Worms, say, the characters' motives and methods are a bit more relatable.
The game does earn points for the ease with which it allows its fans to compete and watch each other's successes. Leaderboards are posted with each challenge, but players can easily switch over to a viewing mode on the main menu to catch myriad replays of every level, and even the top scoring plays of all-time. This was a nice little bonus, and something that should find its way into every game of this type.
In closing, as said before, it's nice for a game to be simple and get right to it, but only the very few combo-obsessed high-score junkies will follow The Splatters all the way to the end. For everyone else, how about this easy summation: SPLAT.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately five hours of play were devoted to single-player modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains mild fantasy violence. Parents needn't worry about objectionable imagery here. The game's characters do fling themselves to their own death, but as they're smiling blobs, there's nothing overly violent or suggestive of blood.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There are no story elements in the game, so there's no voice to be lost for anyone hard of hearing. All tutorials have text accompaniment.