If you remember my review on Freedom Planet, I kept talking about how it compared to Sonic. Well, going to do that again, considering LakeFeperd is making a Sonic-like title with the game we are going to discuss today; Spark the Electric Jester. This title mixes elements from Sonic the Hedgehog, Kirby Super Star & Mega Man X in a very interesting combination that works out really well. Just a heads up though; this first impressions piece will be discussing the August 2016 Demo Lake released, not the full game. We will be reviewing that when it releases February 2017 though.
Story of a Jester….
The plot in the released demos shows our hero Spark, who is a jester that has degrees in college for his jester position. He is sadly replaced with a robot and soon afterwards, robots start going nuts in Spark’s world. He takes action and runs after FARK, his robotic copy and tries to take him out in addition to saving his world.
Simple premise and not much has been shown thus far in the released demos, but Lake’s writing which was first shown in Sonic Chrono Adventure is improving, with the dialog here being really witty and I really enjoyed the writing here.
Running Around at the Speed of Sound
Spark controls not unlike Lilac from Freedom Planet, having a dedicated attack button and the ability to boost forward (though Spark’s dash doesn’t attack people). The similarities end here though, with Spark having a lot more to play around with.
Firstly, Spark has a special meter, which when filled up (after attacking a lot of foes), you can perform a special ability when you hold the attack button & release it. Spark also has the ability to do basic punches and kicks, with his ‘stomp’ like down kick (Air + Attack & Down) having the ability to launch Spark higher if he hits something with this attack.
The feel Spark has is very responsive, with my analog stick movements feeling very responsive and my button commands working with little issue. But Spark’s most impressive ability is the Mega Man X-like wall jump & dash. Spark can dash when pressing one of the right shoulder buttons and it works very similar to X’s dash ability, giving you a higher jump arc and the ability to wall jump makes this move even more useful.
But we have Kirby’s DNA in the game, with Spark having various costumes you can don which offer unique abilities you can mess around with. Like Kirby, they work with one simple button command for the different abilities but they give Spark a lot to play with. Lets go in order, as we have a lot to talk about with the costume mechanic.
We have the Fire costume which is the melee-focused one which makes let you punch & kick with a powerful Sonic Flame-Shield like air dash happening when you release the attack button after charging it. The Ice costume lets you skate across water, make a ice platform in the air and shoot ice pillars when the attack button is fully charged. But some of my favorite ones include Wind, Archer & Edgy.
Wind gives you so many movement options; air dash, hovering ability, triple jump, rolling. All of these make this my go-to costume to hunt down when I play any demo of Spark. Archer is a new form that was recently added to newer demos and it gives you the ability to shoot arrows at foes up to five times before it needs to reset. What makes this form so much fun is that you can aim your shots with the analog stick, shoot downwards when in the air to increase forward momentum & when you fill up your special bar, you can have infinite arrows for a short while when you charge up the attack button. Edgy is clearly a clever nod to one of the best Sonic games ever made. Okay, to be serious, the costume lets Spark wall-run when holding the attack button, have a very useful double jump and have fast melee attacks.
And there is MORE costumes to play around with. But the thing, is that you need to explore the games levels to find these fun power-ups. Level design works similar to Sonic CD or Mega Man X, with a lot of vertical level design pushing you to explore but clear middle and lower paths to explore. Meaning, you rarely get lost and have a reason to explore. The best part about the costume system is that you can ‘store’ one of them and swap between two forms by pressing one of the face buttons. Meaning, you can always have your favorite one and play around with new ones you find with the extra slot.
Overall, the gameplay here is fantastic and a great reflection on the lessons Lake learned from making three solid Sonic adventures.
Fighting some Bots
The boss fights in Spark come in two forms; stationary and mobile. Stationary bosses have specific patterns to work with and learning how to take them down is very fun. One of the early bosses has you going from the ground level to platforms above the ground to avoid damage and it was a fun fight. But stationary bosses are really fun, as I feel they take advantage of your various costumes the best. They have a good amount of health and every costume works against the bosses of this style; you can experiment and play around with the best way to take foes down.
I really enjoyed the mobile boss fight in the second world and it was a lot of fun to me. But I can see one issue popping up; balance with the different power-ups. Each one likely does X amount of damage, so one thing I wonder if Lake is considering is how future bosses will be designed with the many power ups on offer in the game.
But the game isn’t releasing until Feb. 2017, so that is a lot of time to consider looking into this if an issue pops up regarding the boss fights.
What would it be like if a Genesis got a new platforming adventure…..that is what Spark feels like to me. Its as if Lake released a lost Genesis game, as many of the games levels in the recent demo scream ‘SEGA’ to me. Bright colors, fun little background jokes, great usage of sprites and everything looks so alive. It feels like a lost Sonic game and considering this is trying to replicate the visual designs and style that Lake made with the Before/After the Sequel games, that is great to see.
Musically, its fantastic thus far. Lake worked with the Falk and his sound team on this project not unlike what happened with Sonic Before/After the Sequel. Will be linking to a playlist on SoundCloud below if you want to take a listen to some of this games enjoyable music!
Should you give this ‘Spark’ a jolt?
As someone who really enjoys the Sonic series, a resounding yes. The demo that Lake released this August is solid and I had a blast playing through this. Its a lengthy demo too, having four ‘worlds’ to run through and a lot of power-ups to mess around with for Spark. Works well on most PC set-ups and you can play this with a 360 Controller with little issue.
A link to the download page of the demo can be found here and I highly recommend playing it if you want some fun Sonic-like action. The game is set for a February 2017 launch and we will report more on this title as further news develops.
Kickstarter Page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/846060969/spark-the-electric-jester"Spark the Electric Jester (PC) - First Impressions (August 2016 Demo Build)",