The Splatters – Review

Platform | Release Date
XBLA | April 11, 2012
Developed by SpikySnail
Published by Microsoft Game Studios

The Pitch:

The Splatters is a skill game! Well… it’s also a physics-based game, a competitive game and a challenging super addictive game. It’s a lot of other things too but we prefer to make this shorter so you would finish here and go play.

You control The Splatters, an acrobatic group of liquid filled creatures. Their short life is pretty straight-forward: when you slam them, they blow up. When they blow up their liquid breaks. When their liquid falls on bombs – Kaboom!
You will pretty soon orchestrate a magnificent show of Splatters, bombs, liquid and explosions!

Ahh… now for the fun part! In the game you’re not just getting scored for blowing up bombs. To really rack-up massive scores you need to use as many spectacular moves and chain as many stunts together. Instead of shooting directly at the bombs, combo your stunts into one spectacular move that will end with the most gratifying destruction.

And it’s entirely up to you. Master the moves, learn the stunts and put on the show of your life!

The Splatters is a physics-based puzzle game. At its core, it’s about covering bombs with liquid to make them explode. Each level starts with a set number of gelatinous blobs stuck to the wall which you then throw against another surface to liquefy, splattering over anything nearby. You’re given a lot of control on how to spread your gooey mess around but solving each puzzle takes patience and experimentation. Sometimes a lot of patience.

The long tutorial mode is the best part of the game, as puzzles are focused mostly on teaching the various mechanics and creative ways to achieve ridiculously high scores on the integrated leaderboards. Initially it’s all about aiming and hoping the physics of liquefication cover your target. Every few puzzles a new “stunt” mechanic is layered on. Instead of just aiming, you can then change your goo’s direction mid-air, then you can (somewhat) redirect goo even after splattering against the wall, so and and so forth. Most of time you can tackle the bombs how you see fit but puzzles sometimes require matching different-colored goo to different-colored bombs, with one color inevitably being quite difficult to clear out.

The “shift” mechanic provides the most interesting use of the game’s physics engine. Introduced towards the end of the tutorial, it reverses any particle’s momentum but – crucially – inertia remains constant. Sometimes you have to “shift” back and forth on a slide in gel form to gain speed. Shifting in liquid form is more important as the interplay of reversal and inertia spreads the liquid out to cover more area, something which is frequently necessary to explode all of the target bombs.

This tutorial mode is excellent. While completing each puzzle almost always netted me two out of three available stars, getting anywhere close to the top 10 on the leaderboards was quite challenging. Amassing enough points to get there requires not only hitting every single optional objective in the level but also using a vast number of the aerial stunt moves to add to your score multiplier.

Luckily, the game integrates a slick TV replay system with two of the three modes, allowing players to see exactly how the high scores on each level were achieved. These replays load quickly and are smoothly integrated with the game’s UI. Yes, YouTube exists, but when loading up a video in-game takes all of 10 seconds, learning the game becomes so much easier. This is one of the best video systems I’ve seen in any game and it’s something any score-attack multiplayer title should integrate.

Completing the two-hour tutorial unlocks the meat of the game. The first mode I tried was “Combo Nation,” and it’s basically a repeat of the tutorial mode but with every stunt at your disposal. The goal is completion with the highest score possible. It starts out well but the fun disappears as the game ramps up the difficulty. I’m OK with hard games; the problem here is that the puzzles themselves aren’t hard to solve. It takes some effort to figure out what to do but actually doing it takes considerable patience fighting the controls and the wobbly physics system. Some of the puzzles remain easy but the vast majority take upwards of 50 failed attempts to get through. The longer I played, the more I grew to hate my time with the game and I reached a point in this mode where I just wanted to give up.

The third and final mode of the game is also a mixed bag. Called “Master Shots”, it throws out the previous modes’ multiple goo balls and hundreds of bombs for a single bit of goo. You have one shot to get all the bombs and, to make things interesting, you must use certain stunts for each puzzle. It may sound like the game just tells you what to do but the clues are subtle enough that figuring out how – with one blob – to carry out the objectives is actually quite challenging. The best analogy would be the technical program in figure skating: there’s a set number of moves to do but stringing them together is up to you. Initially I thought that the long tutorial and this mode would be enough to carry the experience but the same frustration I experienced in the previous mode cropped up in the later puzzles.

All of this is allegedly being done to please a fictional audience. While the music is keyed well to the dynamic action on-screen, the TV angle is underdeveloped. It’s not like puzzle games need a story but basically all you ever hear is fake applause in the background. What I wanted was a sarcastic and dynamic commentator along the lines of Monday Night Combat to raise the game’s production value.

The core mechanics of The Splatters are great. The two-hour long tutorial is fun, the sound design makes splattering enjoyable, but the puzzles can only get so difficult before the controls get frustrating. Each play session had a lot of highs and lows, but frustration always won out in the end and I had to walk away. It’s a long game, easily 10 hours or more, but I think a pared down game at a lower price point might have been a better way to go here. As it stands at $10, I can’t recommend it.

About David Hughes

David Hughes is an Editor for Splitkick. PC gamer, mod lover, screenarcher, and Elder Scrolls fanboy.
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