The Splatters features a deceivingly simple premise: introduce blob to bomb for explosions and victory, and the game doesn’t lack when it comes to ways to introduce your surprisingly acrobatic blobs to their similarly-colored bombs. Each shot starts out simply enough. Pick a direction, hold the button down longer for a more powerful shot, and let the blob fly. In most games, that description represents all of the control you have over any shot; just aim and let fly. In The Splatters, you’ve only just launched a blob towards what may turn out to be a 20-stunt combo that ends up sliding around two walls, changes direction at least twice in mid-air, and crashes into spikes before raining down onto 30 bombs below…and you controlled every immensely satisfying moment of it.
If that sounds hectic and nerve-wracking, it’s because it absolutely is, and it’s the best part of this totally unique puzzle-action game by freshman indie developer Spiky Snail Games.
The Splatters starts you off very gently with a few levels of the most basic premise of the game: cover the bombs with the liquid of the same color to make them explode. Score is based on the number of Splatters used and length of time taken to clear the level of bombs, and performance is rated on a one to three-star system. Just as soon as you start thinking you’ve got the hang of this bomb-covering thing, the game introduces a new stunt, a way to redirect your shot after impact. Then, a stunt to redirect in mid-shot, and so on until you’ve amassed a palette full of stunts which you can use to create the most complex and viscerally rewarding chain of explosions you can think of. Of course, that’s all before you’re introduced to the Flip.
For me, the Flip is what separates The Splatters from other action-puzzles because using it virtually guarantees completely different and novel ways to solve each puzzle. Put simply, the Flip reverses the last couple seconds of the game. What was going down is now going up, and what was going left is now going right. It sounds simple enough, and after the training the game mandates, I was sure I had mastered use of The Flip, and I was woefully wrong in that.
Not only does everything reverse, but past interactions remain, so if you covered a bomb before the Flip, it’s still primed to go off after. Add that to the fact that you can Flip backwards and forwards as many times as you want, and you can begin to grasp how powerful a tool the Flip can be. I could use another thousand words to describe the myriad ways of using the Flip, but I highly encourage you to watch the video below to see just how game-altering it can be.
In both victory and defeat, the clever use of camera zooms and slo-mo added drama to what may have been yet another shot. The Splatters seems to take special care to subtly emphasize that every shot is different, but none are more correct than any other. Disregarding certain levels that require certain conditions for victory, most of The Splatter’s gameplay is focused on the fact that there is no right or wrong way to finish any level. The best comparison I can make is that The Splatters is much like any of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games in the number of ways to complete any given level, but instead of grinds and kick-flips, you’re reversing time and slamming grinning blobs into walls, hoping to cover as many bombs as possible in a tremendous splash of goo.
After the initial tutorial levels, the other two portions of the core game unlock. Master Shots eschews the core gameplay mechanic of giving you a screen full of bombs and multiple Splatters to hit them with, but instead provides one Splatter, a small number of bombs on a very specific path, and a required list of stunts. If you’re thinking ‘Challenge Mode,’ you’re not too far off. The Master Shots, in addition to being a great way to learn how to pull off some amazing shots, almost feel like an advanced tutorial which trains you how to pull off mind-bending stunts simply by giving you a list of stunts you have to perform and only one chance.
For those less inclined towards exacting technique and simply looking to blow up as much and as often as possible, shoot on over to the Combo Nation portion of the game. Much like the tutorial section, you are given multiple Splatters of differing colors, and caches of bombs around the screen to blow up. Unlike the tutorial, the objective is not simply to clear the level, it’s to do it as fast as possible, doing as many stunts as possible, and using as few Splatters as you can. In order to get the best score, the trick is to never stop moving, as very little in The Splatters feels worse than building a huge combo multiplier, only to watch it disappear for lack of performing tricks in the miniscule time frame you’re given between stunts. Thankfully, the developers included a very handy feature which means you’ll never want for ideas on methods of achieving higher scores.
A large part of the core Splatters game is the integration of Splatter TV, which allows players to share and watch solutions to puzzles throughout the game. As I’ve never been much for watching replays, I didn’t expect this to be a feature I’d get much use out of, but that was before I saw (and couldn’t believe) some of the high scores that had already been posted. I saw, awed and humbled, and watched as someone with ungodly amounts of skill racked up a score in the hundreds of millions on a puzzle I had managed to barely figure out at best. Not only was watching the gameplay enthralling, but now I also had added incentive to go back to that particular puzzle, and try some of the tricks I had seen the master pull off in hopes of a better score.
In hindsight, I felt like The Splatters features a learning curve where you start out thinking you’re already a natural at these easy levels, then soon realize that you have no idea what you’re doing. But eventually, every little stunt you’ve learned starts coming together and your stunt combos and score shoot through the roof. Although, you might not realize you’ve achieved this level of mastery until you find yourself fistpumping in the middle of your living room for having just pulled off that Master Shot after 150 failed tries, or chained a combo throughout an entire level of Combo Nation. Although it may seem frustratingly daunting at times, 800 points is a small price to pay for the infinitely varied, and rewarding, experience of playing The Splatters.
The Splatters will be released on April 11th, 2012 for Xbox 360.