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Spectacular Sparky Review

Spectacular Sparky Review

Starting off our Spectacular Sparky review, it’s worth noting this is the latest FreakZone Games title. As one would expect from the mind behind Angry Video Game Nerd 1 & 2 Deluxe, it is a challenging retro-style action game that emphasizes humor.

Comedy is an underused concept in video games. Most games take themselves too seriously and cutscenes can often be mind-numbingly boring due to the pretentions of the game developers who aspire to be accepted by Hollywood. The problem is developers are unwilling to laugh at themselves.

Humor makes a case for cutscenes and dialogue in video games and Spectacular Sparky is one of the few indie games that manages to actually be funny. Most of the time humor is lazily applied through cheap or lazy meme references. How does FreakZone Games manage to overcome and deliver a fun action game? Find out in our Spectacular Sparky review!

Spectacular Sparky
Developer: FreakZone Games
Publisher: Nicalis
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: October 20, 2021
Players: 1
Price: $14.99 USD 

Spectacular Sparky has a very simple premise that feels inspired by 90s cartoons like Bucky O’Hare, Barnyard Commandos and the seminal NES classic; Battletoads. It is set in a cartoony sci-fi universe full of mutant animals and irreverent violence.

Sparky is just your every day, run-of-the-mill space rabbit, with no grand backstory whatsoever (wink wink). Taking bounties is his business and business is booming. Sparky’s handler is Shigg, a shark-pig man who assigns him a target and then the job is conducted through a series of action-platforming levels, with a few vehicle shoot ’em up sequences. Hilarity ensues.

The gags are a bizarre mix of violent and surreal humor that is something out of Adult Swim during its peak in the early 2000s. References range from very obscure to being inside-jokes to FreakZone’s prior games. Surprisingly, video game references are kept to a minimum, with only a few boss designs that make homages to classic 16-bit battles.

There are some references to R-Type with some shooter level bosses, Sparky’s ship resembles Robotnik’s hover craft and there’s a boss that is almost a copy of the clown face thing from Gunstar Heroes. There is even a battle with a brain like at the end of Star Fox 64.

The strangest references are probably the designs of Sparky and Shigg. Sparky is a bizarre mix of Rayman and Max the lagomorph, but with a snuggly onesie and a Ristar motif. Shigg is supposed to be a shark and pig mutant, but if someone said he was a roided up biker version of Sonic the Hedgehog, it would be believable.

Sparky is a big and chunky sprite with a lot of personality when he moves. Weapons can be fired in multiple directions and holding a shoulder button can allow him to strafe-fire. The secondary shoulder bumper will lock Sparky in place to allow him to fire in all directions, and he will need to because FreakZone is unafraid to unleash a swarm of psychotic muppets on him.

Sparky’s arsenal is the usual Contra-band; spreadshot for wide area, laser beam for pixel-accurate concentrated damage, flamethrower for heaty-hot damage, and the one kid’s love: homing missiles. Having this kind of power does come at a cost since the guns can overheat and players will have to blast their guns thoughtfully or risk getting stuck without firing anything.

Other game mechanics are Sparky’s dash and air-jumping, as both are tied to a stamina gauge. Expect to navigate some precarious platforms with diabolically placed traps and swinging pendulums of death. Sparky’s stamina only allows a few amount of air-hops before he’s totally winded and some later stages have utterly cruel level design.

Not only will players have to carefully maneuver Sparky’s large sprite around some of FreakZone’s evil traps, but the area will be teeming with suicidal monsters looking to rush the player. This is where careful use of Sparky’s dash is critical. Dashing comes with several i-frames and expect to not only use it to gain distance, but also to pass through threats.

The trick to mastering the dash is to get a feel for its distance so as not to land in the middle of an enemy hit-box. The action can quickly become a chaotic nightmare of keep-away and hundreds of bullets and enemies filling the screen. It would be easy to think that Spectacular Sparky would be a hard game, but it is not for the most part.

Spectacular Sparky is very forgiving considering this came from the same developer as Angry Video Game Nerd 1 & 2 Deluxe. Killing enemies makes them spill out stars which also happen to be a plentiful health power-up. Battles tend to be a hectic tug-of-war with Sparky’s HP levels as the player quickly dashes for stars, while trying to kill as much as possible.

The vehicle sections are much more limited with the gameplay since none of the vehicles can dash and the stages are auto-scrolling. These stages breath some variety when the on-foot stages go on for a long time, which tend to range about five levels and always climax with a boss.

The real reason why these shooter levels are enjoyable is mostly due to the amusing banter between Sparky and Shigg. A lot of the world building is creatively expressed by these two characters playing off each other and adding their anecdotes. This is enhanced by the stellar voice actors who truly embody their character.

The dialogue and interplay between the characters keep the admittedly basic shoot ’em up gameplay from getting dull. Thankfully, the chatting is not intrusive and does not stop the action at all. Players will be battling the Giant Claw while the two characters discuss its immense size in the most sly way imaginable.

Spectacular Sparky does an excellent job at having the look and feel of a 16-bit era action game. It does cheat by having colors and higher sprite density than old consoles from the fifth generation could handle. Certain particle effects make this resemble a CD-based game for the Sega Saturn or Sega CD more than anything that was 16-bit.

Not wasting any time is how Spectacular Sparky is most like a retro game. The stimulating and fast paced action with no load times as stages seamlessly connect is in keeping with the retro sprit. Having a cartoony mascot hero is something that games used to have and thankfully, FreakZone Games is keeping this tradition alive.

The difficulty level for Spectacular Sparky is overall much easier than one would expect, but there is replay value in the form of frenzy mode. This extra difficulty setting is unlocked after defeating the final boss and will disable the need for stamina or overheating, but Sparky’s health will gradually deplete.

This is a very exciting way to experience the action since health is usually plentiful and being required to chase stars from exploding enemies dramatically changes Spectacular Sparky‘s gameplay dynamic. The intensity spikes from relaxed to a butt-clenching nightmare.

What Spectacular Sparky needs is a CRT filter and second optional filter to emulate the effects of bad wiring that would cause some subtle splitting. Spectacular Sparky is the ultimate in 1990s video game rental fodder from a sleazy, family owned rental shop.

It is the kind of game that feels like a fever dream and if it could only have the hazy scanlines and haggardly, rugged effect of being on a trashy display, the effect would be complete. It may be pretty short and on the easy side, but that makes it perfect for kids who are getting the hang of 2D action games.

Spectacular Sparky was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by FreakZone Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy hereSpectacular Sparky is now available for Windows PC (via Steam) and Nintendo Switch.

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The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • Tons of creative boss battles
  • Tight and responsive controls
  • Chunky and lurid blast processing pixel art and animation
  • Plenty of gimmicky stages to add gameplay variety
  • The Giant Claw

The Bad

  • Normal difficulty is too easy
  • CRT or "bad wiring" filters are sadly not present

About

A youth destined for damnation.