[24 May 2012]
Few games wear their hearts on their sleeves like The Splatters. It’s the Kill Bill of video games, something that by just hearing the title you know what’s coming. Fortunately, The Splatters reaches its conclusion without any overwrought acting or shot-for-shot Sonny Chiba rip offs, but I digress. The Xbox LIVE Arcade game is the latest in a string of physics puzzlers, thanks in no small part to Angry Birds. The basic conceit—fling things at other things and watch them go boom—cops the appeal of the mobile phenomenon exactly. What The Splatters offers is essentially rag doll physics in addition to the reckless flubber flinging.
The gameplay of The Splatters feels unsurprisingly pedestrian. To offset its conceptual and tactile plagiarism of Angry Birds, the game introduces a number of gameplay mechanics that allow you to manipulate both the physics of your catapulting blobs as well as time itself. Air strikes allow you to essentially double jump with a mid-air splatterer, while your blob goes into a brief bullet-time sequence that allows you to reposition and redirect the trajectory. Meanwhile, there’s a time/speed/direction reversal function that enables you to endlessly flip the motion of all objects on the screen and send them careening into walls.
The Splatters is the worst kind of puzzle game: one that doesn’t really feel like a puzzler at all. The mystery behind the game – uncovering how to solve puzzles and feeling out the mechanics so that you can organically learn how to grapple with complex levels—is revealed after the first tutorial: “Oh, it’s like those other games.” Once you’re given all of the excess abilities, there exists only a few guess-and-check moments in levels before the proper strategy becomes abundantly clear. The biggest obstacle is usually the unreliable physics of exploded, cascading goo that doesn’t properly moisturize the objectives (I.e., “bombs,” essentially color-coded fish eggs that need to be adequately saturated).
The game just feels lazy. Its length presents no challenge, though maybe developer SpikySnail will follow suit and mimic Angry Birds’s map-pack release schedule. But worse is the introduction of the physics-altering mechanics so early on. There’s very little that’s difficult about The Splatters, as evidenced by the fact that you hardly play any levels with the bare-bones abilities. You solve only a handful of puzzles before the game begins unveiling supernatural powers to more easily complete each puzzle. You rarely, if ever, look at a level and have to consider what the best approach to solving it is, whether that’s before or after you can manipulate the world.
I’ve always tried to consider how game designers develop puzzle games. Do you begin with the solution or with a problem? How did the test chambers of Aperture Science come to be created so fluidly (other than through omnipotent mechanical design)? In The Splatters, those questions are absent or at least impertinent. Each level is constrained to the width and height of the screen and is generally rectangular in shape. Without much exploration, it becomes evident that these levels were designed strictly within those confines without any interest in pushing boundaries. So in each level, you’re left with an enclosed ring (more or less) and are told to bounce things off the various walls. The end.
What The Splatters lacks in ingenuity, it certainly makes up for in goo porn. This is Nickelodeon’s Double Dare for a digital age. The physics governing the splattered blobs is fun to watch and manipulate if ultimately shallow. The Splatters falls short of being a really fun, independent release, one that’s more suited for the browser-based gaming world than Xbox LIVE.