PAXtravaganza 2013!: Super Splatters

SuperSplatters_Logo

Ever play Worms? For the uninitiated, Worms gave you a team of worms with heavy artillery, all sorts of bizarre weaponry (the Holy Hand Grenade being a personal favorite; yes, I realize it’s a Monty Python reference), and one objective: blow up your opponent’s team. However, that objective wasn’t as easy to fulfill as it sounds; you need to take account of the game’s physics engine, which determined the arc, firing rate, and overall speed of said projectile – wind also affected the trajectory. Thus, if you were careless, you might destroy yourself, and that’s never good.

worms-armageddon

Like this.

While that may not seem the most apt comparison in the world, SpikeSnail Games‘ new title Super Splatters reminds me a great deal of Worms in terms of strategy. The game gives you a limited number of resources to fulfill a pre-determined set of goals – in this case, to soak “bombs” scattered around the playing area with liquid slime. Unlike, say, PopCap’s Peggle, your options aren’t limited to one specific button press – rather, SpikySnail crafted an elaborate physics system that augments the strategy and dexterity required to become successful. You’ll see that their previous game, The Splatters (on XBLA), shows many of the same features (unfortunately, I can’t tell you the difference between one or the other, but I believe the original doesn’t have a tutorial).

Even then, the aesthetics might make you reconsider. Slimes? Bombs? Throwing liquid into things? I’m not sure if most people find this the most endearing subject matter, but I believe it helps in manner of abstraction; it’s bright, clear, and colorful, and that’s all I require! Like Worms, it has that quirky and charming style to it that some people will like, and some won’t (your loss, unfortunately!). As well, its atypical setting also holds a hidden depth that you wouldn’t catch at first glance.

Case in point: each slime in the room, controlled by you, needs to explode in a shower of goo. To do this, there’s several different methods to employ. First, you can simply jump once by clicking the left mouse button in one direction. You can either position yourself, or jump into a spike – this will automatically break your slime’s viscous membrane and cause it to liquify. Usually these spikes become a part of any good strategy, given that there’s a ton of bombs underneath them! However, most puzzle aren’t that easy – you’ll need to employ some creative destruction to reach certain piles of bombs. Using the circular ramps around the room creates great momentum for the slimes, allowing them to rip right through the bombs tethered to walls and ledges. Jumping again while in the midst of a jump (no matter how fast or slow) begins the “rocket” maneuver, allowing you to launch a slime far and fast in any one direction – you’ll use this one a lot to reach ledges and otherwise inaccessible areas, as well as slamming the slime into a wall to hit the bombs.

After that “launch”, your slime won’t be able to handle that velocity for long, and will eventually break up – at this point, a blue arrow (rather than the orange one will appear), showing for a few seconds where the slime will break up in midair. Air correctly, and the slime will drip exactly where it needs to drip. Let’s say this requires a LOT more developed and nuanced play than it sounds, and you’ll find yourself trying for some exactly perfect jumps to win. Slime doesn’t go through layers of bombs THAT efficiently, so you’ll need some alternatives for deep/wide areas. Call in a “bombardment” instead (done by clicking a third time during the missile attack) and the slime will spread to a wide area.

The_Splatters_03

There’s one other mechanic that, in my time playing, I didn’t get a full grip on its workings, but I understand it in retrospect. Called “the flip”, it changes the directory of objects in flight after a second jump (of any type, I gather) by pressing and holding the space key. It reminds me of shifting a pinball board. The flip actually changes the trajectory and the direction of the slime in air – more like turning around in midair then turning back time (although it certainly looks that way in practice). Realistic? Not at all. Fun? Absolutely! The flip, more than anything else, drastically changes how SpikySnail can design various puzzles in the game. Press for a short time or a long time determines the direction of your current slime’s movement, and that changes the dynamics quite a bit. The fact that flip actually works multiple times in air (I only saw three times total when first playing) also shows that later puzzles may employ difficult and dextrous use of the flip to succeed.

So, what’ the point of all this maneuvering? Score, of course! Destroy the most bombs with one slime that you can, and you rack up a huge bonus. One can also combine multiple slimes together to create a giant shower of brightly-colored destruction with all the same mechanics listed above, so this remains possible on every obstacle. For most levels (at least those on the PAX East demo), the game doesn’t penalize you for doing things incorrectly; just press R to restart. In a game with myriad possibilities on each different move, I appreciate the opportunity to experiment and try different combinations of slimes, using different slimes first (press shift to switch between them), and simply trying out new things. At its base, Super Splatters gives you a host of interesting and nuanced mechanics and forces you to work under predetermined constraints. Still, the game doesn’t try for an arbitrary time limit – you have all the time in the world to optimize and figure out any particular stage. Better yet, the visual style clearly shows the impact and the delightful aesthetic sense of SpikySnail; each and every explosion rocks the world, and it feels quite satisfying to get a top score with all that visual and audio feedback.

There’s some games you just “get”, and this is one of them. I imagine it could bridge between a more casual game audience (as in PopCap’s milieux) and more complex puzzle games, as it retains and refines elements of both. Whether or not they went for accessibility, they certainly achieved it; Super Splatters struck me as incredibly intuitive. You’ll get a feel for the physics within five minutes, I guarantee you. If I can get a good grip on the game in a fifteen minute period on a convention showfloor, then pretty much anyone could pick the game up and have fun. Well, having one of the developers next to you also help (thanks to Mr. Koren for that). Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that the game has a solid release date, but sometime within the next three months seems accurate. The game’s polished and fun as it is, and I cannot wait to see the higher difficulty levels and complex stages.

It’s hard to describe it as anything but “satisfying”. However ambiguous it sounds, there’s an innate satisfaction to the game’s methodical pacing and its sudden bursts of precise actions taken by the player that highlights the great design at play here. If anything, one could describe its greatest attribute as a sense of immediate intuition and perception as to the game’s greater qualities. The old adage of “easy to learn, hard to master” might sound incredibly cliched, but imagine your favorite games. Did the core mechanics of said games truly impress you at a glance? Even if you didn’t get it at first, was there not a tiny spark of ingenuity that you saw? I’ve had that eureka! moment for many games, some immediately and some over time, when you truly understand everything. Good games rely on our natural sense of intuition; as Job 38 says:

36 “Who has put wisdom in the innermost being
Or given understanding to the mind?

God places this in the human mind for us to understand such things at a glance. Game developers work towards this constantly, seeing those mechanics and trying to highlight them to a variety of people. When they succeed…your game ends up in a “Top 100 games of all time” list. Joking aside, that intuitive nature comes through with Super Splatters. So if it wasn’t clear enough: please go pre-order it now! If you must try it in advance, go download the demo off XBLA; that should, at the least, give you a taste of the game’s quality. I hope and pray for their success, because there’s something special here.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.