Spectacular Sparky game review: Blasting and laughing
- A homage to classic white-glove video game heroes of the 90s
- 24 levels of frantic jumping, blasting and flying
- Retro graphics, old school difficulty and a catchy soundtrack
Spectacular Sparky is a game deliberately out of its time. While younger audiences might be turned off by its aesthetics and gameplay, it’s very much designed for a certain type of gamer. It’s a true homage from start to finish, not to any game in particular, but to a suite of 1990s action games the likes of which you rarely see on modern platforms.
If you ever played games like Sonic the Hedgehog when it was new, or Cool Spot or Dizzy, Spectacular Sparky will transport you back to those early days of console games, where bosses were huge, the music was relentlessly charming or charmingly relentless, and everything was, above all, cute.
Sparky is undeniably cute, too. His ears have actual stars on the end, his face is 60% smile, and his voice has that sickly pitch usually reserved for Saturday morning cartoon protagonists. He may be a rabbit of some kind, only, y’know, a space rabbit. But his demeanour is a trick, for he’s also one of the galaxy’s most ruthless bounty hunters.
Alongside his pig-like associate, Shigg, Sparky’s job is to scour the stars for the most dangerous wanted criminals in existence and bring them to justice one way or another. Levels are presented in a side-scrolling fashion, with Sparky travelling from left to right, impeded now and then by a cavalcade of enemies that need dealing with.
It’s all almost completely devoid of context, of course. All that matters is that you keep blasting and stay alive long enough to reach the end-of-stage boss. The opening stage has a handful of tutorials in the form of the 2-Tor-E-L radio station. I don’t know who provides the voice acting for DJ Cosmosis, but he’s brilliant. His delivery is smooth, weirdly believable and genuinely funny, and it’s a shame he’s not in it more.
These tutorials give you an overview of Sparky’s various abilities. For a start, you can reach higher ledges using Sparky’s long ears like wings. Mashing the jump button will allow you to climb through the air, but it drains your stamina. Likewise, you can dash through obstacles and enemy projectiles with generous i-frames. Again, though, this uses up stamina. It only takes a second or two to replenish though, and so you’ll be dodging plenty.
Finally, you have the ability to stand still and shoot, or move backwards and shoot forwards. Playing this on a gamepad, felt somewhat fiddly. I kept using the trigger to shoot instead of to hold me in place, thanks to years of muscle memory getting in the way. Also, while you’ll often need to stand still while shooting so you don’t wander off a ledge, it’s not always wise to stand still.
Some areas in Spectacular Sparky, especially either later in the game or on a higher difficulty level (there are five to choose from), feel almost like bullet hell. Even playing on the default difficulty, Sparky isn’t the most resilient yellow space bunny. Death only sends you back to the nearest checkpoint, which is most generously placed, but it can be annoying to keep replaying some encounters.
Thing is, Sparky can feel a little sluggish to move, and sometimes when you’re being pelted by projectiles, dodging diving enemies, and trying to shoot in eight directions, it gets very tricky to stay alive. Enemies drop bombs or throw things, some of them charge at you screaming, and environmental traps like spikes, flames, and buzz-saws only add to the strife.
Defeating enemies drops golden stars which replenish Sparky’s health, but you need to keep an eye on your weapon’s heat meter. If it overheats it’ll stop working for a moment, which in this game is often long enough to overwhelm you.
There aren’t many different weapon types to use, sadly. You have a multi-shot cannon, a flamethrower, a laser blaster and homing missiles, which are by far the best weapon in any situation. It would have been nice to see more variety and maybe some zanier ideas. Instead, what’s here is a fairly basic line-up, all of which you’ve sampled by the end of the first area.
At the end of each stage, you’ll face a boss battle, and it’s no surprise that in a pile of over twenty there are some stinkers. In fact, the bosses are often so basic that they’re more of a nuisance than a real threat. Although the difficulty ramps up as you progress, the mechanics of each is more or less the same. You just shoot them while dodging, jumping or outrunning their attacks. They do get tougher, but they never really become big complicated affairs.
Now and then a level will see you jump into a vehicle instead. There’s Sparky’s trusty spaceship, of course, as well as a hang-glider, and a jet-ski for navigating treacherous lava pools. You’re unable to jump or dash in vehicles, but these missions are more straightforward in terms of enemy mix and objectives. You just blast, dodge, and make it to the end.
One thing Spectacular Sparky does very well is humour. While not all the jokes land, it is fully voiced, and most of the humour will find its mark. It never quite veers into crude or adult comedy, but it comes close now and then.
Sparky himself has a knack for winding people up and tends to mock bosses as he blasts his way through their various phases. There isn’t much of a narrative being told, but there’s enough to give your adventures context at least – which is probably all it needs.
Completion and achievements
Spectacular Sparky isn’t a very long game. There are 24 stages split across five worlds, and it won’t take more than five or six hours to get through them. The difficulty spikes may give you some pause, but you can always adjust the difficulty setting if it gets too much.
After beating the game the first time you’ll unlock Frenzy mode, which is an absolute bonkers challenge for anyone who found the main game a little too simple.
Final thoughts on Spectacular Sparky
- Simple fun
- Quite funny in places
- Charming aesthetic
- Difficulty spikes can ruin the flow
- Boss fights are hit and miss
- Not much variety
Final Score: 3.5/5
This is a game for old school platformer fans who miss the heady days of Sam and Max, Earthworm Jim or Conker’s Bad Fur Day. It’s a frenetic mix of blasting and platforming, with some enjoyable voice acting and a deliberately retro aesthetic.
Despite some difficulty spikes and a lack of overall variety, it’s a likeable throwback to a simpler time when games were just about having fun. Irreverent, funny, and playable, it’s worth checking out for fans of retro action and old school thrills.
Spectacular Sparky is available on PC and Nintendo Switch for around $10.99. The system requirements are available on Steam.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Windows 10. Code provided by the publisher.