XBLA Review: The Splatters

With physics-based puzzlers abundant, the requisites for originality and quality within the genre have risen. Making a block fall over and bounce off another block is no longer sufficient. The Splatters seems to know this, but its attempts at relevance and innovation feel forced.

Puzzle games usually work because of a simple clever concept and ruleset: In Portal, you place portals in the environment; in Braid, you manipulate time; in World Of Goo, you build structures of goo balls. The Splatters’s premise is less elegant – Gelatinous, eerily smiling blobs are launched at stacks of bombs. Upon hitting a sharp edge or hard surface, the jelly-blobs explode into paint-like liquid which detonates the bombs at contact. Sometimes there are differently-colored bombs only able to detonate by using blobs of corresponding color. The gameplay happens in side-on 2D arenas with platforms, ramps to glide along and spikes to gut your blobs on. Victory happens when all bombs are cleared. So far, so decent.

Eventually, more mechanics are introduced, including a pseudo-time-reversal ability and a trick-system. These somewhat successfully add depth, though it’s a messy kind of depth that feels unshakably desperate. The mechanics have few, specific uses and can scarcely be twisted cleverly. For instance, the kinda-time-manipulation is only useful for shifting momentum on ramps or aligning goo-rain to hit bombs, techniques you’ll repeat innumerable times. Instead of few but dynamic mechanics, the game opts for many restrictive ones, and thus feels clumsy.

The Splatters rarely demands outside-the-box thought and, as the difficulty surges in later levels, it’s your split-second timing being challenged, rather than your strategic muscle. Exploring all of the possible approaches to a level is mostly straightforward, making for scant “Aha-that-was-right-in-front-of-my-face-the-whole-time” moments. This isn’t necessarily a detriment – many good ostensibly “puzzle” games have reflex-based, thoughtless gameplay. Indeed, The Splatters can be rewarding when you’re firing a blob at the right angle, timing your double-boost perfectly and seeing the bomb-stack showered in colored gunk, all with suitably squelchy sound-effects and cool zooming camera shots. But, with increasing regularity, my progress was arrested in scenarios demanding ridiculously tight timing and little else, where success was a mere numbers game of waiting – not trying – to get it right.

Ultimately, The Splatters is decent. The blob-flinging gameplay, despite its contrived design, is mostly solid. It features impressively elastic goo-physics and has a good volume of stages. There are far better places to squander 800 MS points, but you’ll mildly enjoy yourself if you are stuck playing it.

Pros:

  • Cool semi-liquid physics model
  • Plenty of stages
  • Nice, tactile feel
  • …Fun?

Cons:

  • Ugly, Worms-esque visual design
  • Messy gameplay
  • Monotonous trial-and-error in later levels

3 out of 5.

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Author: Magnus Risebro View all posts by
Magnus Risebro lives deep in the bowels of Norway. He writes about videogames for Vagary.tv.