The disintegration of quality games from the PlayStation Store has been a oft-repeated problem lately. Brought up constantly by gaming industry commentators like Kinda Funny’s Colin Moriarity, far too many e-market places are getting flooded with games largely becoming a race to the bottom in price and quality. Nowhere else is this more evident than Spheroids, Eclipse Games’ latest title which tries to merge elements of Pang, Mutant Mudds and Crossy Road to little success.
Spheroids has a lot of issues from the very get-go. Starting with a fairly vague opening menu, the game proceeds to a disjointed story about a Rick and Morty-esque pairing. Players will gain control of Lucas, a plucky youngster with a semi-abusive crazy scientist companion, Otto.
With little more exposition than I’m putting into the description, Otto explains that sphere-like aliens (you guessed it, Spheroids) have landed on earth and are creating havoc. Lucas is tasked with heading to pixelated real-world environments to rid the planet of the sphere-like menace before they turn everything in the cubic world round. Besides that interaction, Otto mostly acts as a tutorial a mid-chapter stop to introduce new enemy types or mechanics.
The game is a standard 2D platformer, lifting some heavy elements from other games. For instance, much like Mutant Mudds, Lucas is consistently adding to his arsenal — a key component includes navigating both the foreground and background of levels. The main mechanics is the rope-like gun that pops Spheroids, either destroying them or dividing them into smaller Spheroids. As I mentioned before, this is a fairly obvious borrowing of Mitchell/Capcom’s Pang game-mechanic.
On top of that, Spheroids includes staples of the platforming genre — gravity switching boots, switches, grappling hooks, slippery ice, and more. This itself isn’t a problem — I think any regular gamer would be hard-pressed to find a game which doesn’t borrow aspects or themes from another in the genre. The true issue is that not only does it rip gameplay elements from other games, but it implements them poorly without adding anything new.
For instance, the javelin-like mechanic that is the focal point of the game? There is a noticeable second or half-second delay, which isn’t found in the jump or grappling hook mechanic that really screws with the precision shots that are oh-so necessary for a Pang-like game. Jumping and running on ice also feels far more awkward than games which have perfected platforming mechanics, be it genre giants like the Mario or Rayman series or indie titles like Xeodrifter.
While not every game calls for pixel-perfect mechanics, Spheroids is a game that could have definitely benefited from it. In the same vein, the only way to control the game is with the analog thumbsticks; this ends up being another bizarre choice, given how precise a D-pad option typically is.
The game features a ton of these level-design faux pas: sometimes you run into sections and Spheroids appear directly on top of you, leading to insta-death. Other times, you will be travelling off-screen only to fall into enemies or pits players have no ways of knowing are there.
These problems are seemingly solved by an penalty-free checkpoint system, where players restart without losing any progress in enemy kills, gold collection or upgrades. However, the penalty-free checkpoints are so frequent that the game feels consequence-free as a result; at no point did I feel challenged because I could simply blunder my way through a level. I would have much preferred more precise controls and smarter level design and an aptly-punishing checkpoint system.
I wish I could say that the only aspect of the game suffering poor design is the gameplay, but the visuals, story and music are cut from the same cloth. While the visuals are largely based on the 2D, cubic indie aesthetic pushed by FEZ and Crossy Road, the Spheroids themselves look bizarre, cartoonish and out of place in comparison. Sure, that is partly the premise of the story — the Spheroids being other worldly invaders — but the difference seems too jarring.
Meanwhile, the music is the typical light-hearted platformer fare. However, the 32 different levels in the game seem to simply shuffle between a handful of songs, regardless of environment, damage you’ve taken, or enemies around. And the points where music is needed the most — the awkward story bits between Lucas and Otto in between missions — are devoid of sound entirely for little-to-no reason.
More astonishing than anything is that this game is currently priced at $7.99 on the PlayStation Store — albeit with cross-save and cross-buy functionality. However, even as a budget game, it seems like something that is often downloaded for free on App Stores and deleted shortly thereafter. As I mentioned in the beginning — race to the bottom game development.
At the end of the day, Spheroids feels like the video game equivalent fast food. And while there are plenty of great games with shallow experiences, Spheroids is pure junk. Like the Arby’s of video games, the game is a mix of ingredients that deserve to taste way better than they do, and should ultimately cost much less than Eclipse Games is charging.