Platformers are fantastic. For me, they are easily one of the best genres. Nothing is better than sitting down and meticulously working my way through a level. So the question is: does Spheroids earn its place as a platformer game?
The concept is simple, a side scrolling platformer where the player controls a Canadian boy (Lucas) destined to protect the world. The player can only shoot vertically, so they need to get creative if they want to defeat the enemy. With this in mind, the player needs to traverse the level, fighting enemies or avoiding them, in attempt to get to the end and back to the boy’s erratic ally, a scientist. He provides the player with new ways to deal with the threat at hand, whether that’s a new way to traverse the level or advice on the latest enemy type the player has to face. The interactions between the two characters, while amusing at times, are not particularly interesting. The same can be said for the games story. For me, the story is just there to provide a small amount of context. It really has no impact on the player. Unfortunately this is common for indie platformers. In an odd way, platformers get let off for having a lack of story more than any other genre. Just an interesting thought.
The levels themselves are fantastically designed. They use the various mechanics well, everything flows naturally. Each time a new mechanic is introduced, such as the grappling hook or invert gravity ability, the levels change drastically to accommodate the new ability. The way you play feels different, and the levels constantly feel fresh and interesting. Unfortunately until roughly chapter 4, all levels feel short and easy to complete. For context, that’s half way into the game. That’s not to say chapters 1-4 are boring, but it takes longer than it should for the game to become challenging. Every level has power ups for the player to either buy with the coins they collect or pick up from dead enemies. They range from extra health bars to double hooks. They act as a nice touch but I rarely felt the need to use them. They are far from bad, but I just never felt compelled to buy one, which may link into the short and easy levels for half of the game. Plus add in the generous checkpoint system and there just really isn’t a need for the power ups. However it is a nice touch that the shop for power ups is an arcade machine.
The art style is minimalistic but it works. I found it interesting how the main character and enemies have a completely different art style. It is possible I am looking too deeply into it, but it seems to be done to show the stark difference between the player and the invading enemies. In the story the Spheroids are from a different dimension. The art seems to reflect that, indicating that the two dimensions have very different looks. Or maybe they just look different for a simple reason: why not? Anyway it looks good, and there are some subtle little touches that work well. The boys corpse is left on show after he dies, adding a slightly dark tone to a colourful and vibrant game. While on the topic of enemies, the Spheroids all have a unique feel to them. They are well designed and it’s impressive what the developers did, particularly when all the enemies look identical apart from a few colour changes. That’s not a negative, it genuinely makes perfect sense for the game.
A few side notes that I feel is important to the customer. For starters, no platinum. For me, this mean no replay factor. I know not everyone is the same, but a large subset of people do care about this kind of thing. It would make perfect sense for a small little platformer like Spheroids to have a platinum. I certainly do not think it should stop anyone from buying the game, but it is a notable point. However, for those with both a PS4 and PS Vita, the game is cross-buy. Spheroids is being reviewed on PS4, but I can easily see how the game would feel right at home on the Vita.
At the start I asked if Spheroids earns its place as a platformer. It certainly does, but unfortunately some issues hold it back from being truly great. However without a doubt it is a really good game. It is worth anyone’s time and attention. For the sake of honesty, it shouldn’t take too long to complete, especially when half the game is short and easy. If you can, play this game. Even with its short comings, there is fun to be had here.
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