The Splatters Review (XBLA)

The Splatters

The Splatters is a physics-based puzzler, and comes complete with all the problems that someone familiar with the genre will expect.

You control the suicidal Splatters as they attempt to rid the world of bombs by, well, blowing them up willy-nilly. It’s probably not an accepted form of bomb defusal but when you’re a blob of goo, you don’t really have much else at your disposal. Thus the Splatters fling themselves at walls and explode into a gooey liquid and any of this goo that comes into contact with a bomb blows it up. Clear all the bombs in a level and the world is saved. Actual safety of the world cannot be guaranteed. The Splatters are colour coded (a colour-blind mode is present) and – you can see where this is going – will only be able to activate bombs of the same colour. Once all the bombs are gone, or the Splatters run out, the level ends, or the player is forced to restart.

The player will need to get used to restarting.

The Splatters

In a way, the gameplay begins in a similar fashion to Worms. You select the Splatter you wish to launch, aim with the left stick and then press A to fire. As soon as it hits a wall or some spikes it will explode into goo and rain down on whatever’s below it – hopefully some bombs. The Splatters have a number of other moves in their repertoire to keep things interesting. These stunts build the combo meter and performing them quickly is the key to massive scores. Pressing A in mid-air allows the direction to be changed, while pressing it again turns the Splatter into a missile which explodes with greater force on impact. Pressing LT changes a Splatter’s momentum, so if they were sliding right they instead slide left and this can be the key to success in many levels, though the results are often unpredictable.

This unpredictable nature courses through The Splatters and is an issue with any physics-based puzzle game. Although here it gets to the point where solving levels comes down almost entirely to luck beyond the games half way point. You can make a small amount of your own luck with a good shot but that will only take you so far. Once the bombs are bouncing around the landscape and goo is raining down, there’s very little to do but hope for the best. Sometimes all the bombs will disappear. Sometimes one will be left over. Sometimes they’ll be missed almost entirely. There’s no visible reason why something works one time but doesn’t the next – a tiny fraction of a second difference in the press of a button makes a massive difference to the outcome and is almost completely out of the control of the player.

The Splatters

This is certainly not a problem unique to The Splatters, but the game feels far more random in the way things bounce and slide around than other physics-puzzlers. In Peggle, which this game borrows from in places, a shot can be repeated twice with identical results should the player desire. The same can’t be said here.

Beyond a set of tutorial levels, there are two different modes in the game, based around similar mechanics. The first, Combo Nation, is simply about building combos and high scores. Levels are split into a few stages played one after the other and the combo carries across from stage to stage. When a stage is failed it can be restarted, though the combo is reset to zero. Reaching the final stage in a level with a combo in place and then missing out through little fault of your own is incredibly frustrating, as the effect it has on your final score can easily run into tens of millions. These points are the difference between a two-star or three-star rating and going for that third star means starting the level again, repeating stage after already completed stage and hoping for more luck this time.

Master Shots is more of a puzzle mode, requiring the player to destroy all the bombs with a single Splatter, while performing a number of specific stunts. Usually there will be one solution to these levels as the terrain will have to be used efficiently to collect all the bombs in one place before attempting to cover them in your goo (which, apparently, is what ‘she’ said). Working out a solution in this mode is fun, performing it is not, with the random-feeling nature of the physics letting this mode down most of all due to the precision it requires.

The Splatters

The problem isn’t that The Splatters is a bad game. It starts off very well, the levels are simple and the player has a perfect level of control to deal with everything on screen; it’s a game that leaves a very positive first impression. Unfortunately, when the going starts to get tough those once perfect controls start to feel inadequate, and the player is forced to perform the same solution over and over again until they get the lucky bounce they needed to complete the level.

The title retains a fun element of puzzle-solving throughout, but it simply isn’t satisfying to carry those solutions out once the difficulty ramps up.