NewsReview: Spitlings

Review: Spitlings

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Terrifying or cute – it’s hard to decide which is a more apt description of the square-shaped protagonists of Spitlings. Regardless, in this chaotic action arcade game, you’ll be meeting a whole cast of said creatures, helping to reclaim their home from the goo-pocalypse that has ravaged it. From disgusting, fang-bearing monsters, to a literal helicopter, you can spit and slide your way across over 100 single-player levels. With the addition of local and online multiplayer, as well as a soon-to-arrive level editor, there’s plenty of opportunity to get to know each and every one of the Spitlings. Indeed, the game certainly boasts a plethora of content, but does quality match quantity here? Well let’s break down just how much fun, or how much rage, you’ll be having in this world of spitting-squares.

In contrast to previous reviews, I think it’s best to tackle the visual and audio design of Spitlings first. Almost the entirety of the game, from its UI to level design, is plastered in bold, vibrant block colours. Remarkably similar to that found in the Splatoon series, Spitlings adopts a softer visual design, with menus and HUD indicators all adopting rounded fonts and bright colour schemes. I was a big fan of this design choice, and especially due to its consistency throughout the game, there is a real sense of cohesion across every menu/level. But for me, the real standout of Spitlings is its soundtrack. It. Is. BUMPING. Honestly, I’m sure I spent every level either shimmying my shoulders or bopping my head to the music. With subtle variations to this track through the different stages, it never becomes stale, whilst simultaneously giving each level a distinct feel. Seriously, my hat goes off to those in the sound department over at Massive Miniteam. All in all, Spitlings does a fantastic job at creating a charming, vibrant and exciting aesthetic, and I dare anyone to try to claim they didn’t dance even a little bit to the soundtrack whilst playing.

Nevertheless, we know all too well that great graphics don’t make great games. But is this the case with Spitlings? Unfortunately, I would have to say it is. By no means is the gameplay loop terrible, but in all honestly, it can become very mundane, despite its best efforts to create ‘chaos’. Each level plays out the same – spit and destroy all the bouncing goo, meanwhile avoiding touching them. You can spit downwards to propel yourself through the air, or upwards to take out goo mid-air. One collision however means instant death, and you’ll have to restart over. Considering that each level is confined to a small box, having a tonne of deadly goo flying around certainly gives the impression of a chaos. The problem is, a vast majority of your deaths will come from a stray bit of goo, and so playing it safe often becomes the most reliable means of progression. This means sitting is a corner, waiting for the goo to pass into you line of sight, then spitting them out of existence one-by-one. The levels rarely require any form of strategy or skill, instead just divulging into a series of button-mashing. They do require slightly more thought later into the game, but even then, I found myself more often than not taking the safe route to avoid further frustration. As a result, aside from the odd exception, Spitlings would benefit greatly from some more unique level design. Whether the custom level editor will provide that remains to be seen, but as of right now, I have to say I was largely disappointed with the level design in Spitlings.

These problems extend into the actual gameplay mechanics as well. I found that controlling my Spitling was far more difficult than it needed to be, even with custom controls set up. This mainly stems from the fact that for a fast-paced arcade game, there are too many buttons to press. Having recently reviewed Capcom Arcade Stadium, one thing that stood out was the fact that almost every game could be played with only one or two buttons. There were some exceptions to this rule, for example in Street Fighter 2, but even then the flow between each button press feels natural and appropriate. In Spitlings however, I found myself pressing the wrong button at the wrong time FAR too often. Having to restart a level because I accidently jumped into goo becomes very tiring after the 10th time. As well as this, more a source of boredom than frustration, the ability to recharge your spit-ammo infinitely feels like a bizarre design choice. OK, having the time and space to do is a rarity, as you are often ducking and diving between bits of goo, but even having the option in the first place means there is no incentive to be careful with your shots, and ultimately facilitates the button-mashing mentioned earlier. I honestly believe either limiting or even removing this ability altogether would notably increase the challenge of each level, promoting a more strategic approach, ultimately giving the player a greater sense of reward for overcoming the challenge presented. Look, both of these issues aren’t game-breaking. The gameplay loop of Spitlings is still enjoyable, despite these flaws. However, it feels like the developers missed an essential trick when designing an arcade-style game – creating complexity from simplicity.

Unfortunately I was unable to try out the multiplayer modes in Spitlings, however on paper they do sound a lot of fun to play with friends. Having up to 4 players spitting away at bouncing goo certainly projects a greater sense of chaos than that experienced playing solo. Nevertheless, I did manage to progress enough in the story to appreciate the unique and beautifully-drawn comic book panels between stages. Only being apart of the 13% who made it to the second cutscene though (around 1/3 into the story) suggests that there is not many who have shared this experience. You are able to read this comics in a separate menu after unlocking them, and they are honestly one of the best parts of the game. They are bizarre, funny and weird all at the same time, meanwhile being drawn to perfection. Again, much like in the rest of the game, those behind Spitlings’ visual design have done a fantastic job. The story itself is nothing special, but saving your Spitling friends is a rewarding endeavour, and seeing them jump around the main menu, overjoyed with the feeling of freedom, is a nice touch.

Overall, Spitlings feels like a game created primarily by game designers rather than developers. The visual and audio design are stellar, but ultimately the core gameplay is unnecessarily complex, meanwhile creating far too many instances of boredom. If this sounds like a weird paradox, that’s because it is. Arcade games are often rooted in very simple controls, meanwhile employing the combination of various enemy types/environmental obstacles to present the player with complex and challenging levels. Spitlings on the other hand does the opposite. It is by no means a terrible game, and there is still plenty of fun to be had, but all in all, Spitlings falters at the most crucial part – having an enjoyable gameplay loop.

SUMMARY

+ Fantastic soundtrack
+ Beautiful visual design
+ Great character variation
- Gameplay loop can become boring
- Lack of real online play
- Controls unnecessarily complex
Reviewed on PC (also available on Stadia, Xbox, Playstation, Switch)

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