Spartan is Sinister Cyclops Game Studios’ first foray into the gaming world. A funky, classic 2D platformer in which you take control of King Leo in order to take back the City’s stolen goods and punish those responsible for their disappearance. Spartan boasts 24 levels across four distinct worlds, each with non-linear gameplay and interesting enemies and traps.
In each level, Leo will have to reclaim five golden chests, each hidden somewhere in the level. It is vital to collect these chests, otherwise the portal to the next level will not open. The thing is, the “non-linear gameplay” element of the game means you can reach the end of the level without collecting all chests, only to discover that you missed one of the very first chests and have to backtrack all the way through the level in reverse, undoing all the hard work you have done to get there. The non-linear part means that levels branch out, meaning you can miss chests – and end up in predicaments. Like me. So in a way, the gameplay is linear – you have to get the chests in the same way as you always do, just not necessarily in the right order. It’s a little bit confusing to say the least.
To remedy this, each world could start with every level unlocked, with a number of chests recovered set as a requirement to unlock the next world. This means that if a player can’t find a particular chest, or finds it too difficult to get to one, they could go past it and still progress. This also solves my problem of having to backtrack. I’m not biased I swear…
The tutorial level is simple enough – you will learn the basics of how to platform, how to attack enemies and how to defend yourself. It is within the tutorial that a few things might become apparent to you; some things that feel odd, or bother you. For one, you cannot move while attacking or defending. Not only does this make combat difficult, but it interrupts any flow or momentum you have built up. King Leo’s inability to multitask in any capacity makes the game feel clunky and slow, when really you should be able to swing your sword and move forward at the same time – or use your shield when running.
It seems a small thing to worry about, but especially when your enemy is a moving target, like the spiders in the game, it means you can be stood there swinging for a couple of seconds before you manage to vanquish the enemy. It just makes Spartan frustrating.
Double jumping requires seemingly millisecond precise timing at the height of your jump in order to activate it. Missing this timing, for the most part, means plummeting to your death. Wall jumping is another issue as it can be tough to activate, whilst keeping it going is a feat reserved for the rhythmically adept. Double jumps should be able to be actioned at any point of a jump. Punishing the player for timing a jump wrong is fine, but how often is a “perfect” double jump – maximising the height from both jumps – required? Not often.
Now, Spartan is advertised as a classic platformer, and I knew this going into the game, however I couldn’t help but feel cheated at some of the game’s levels, and the deaths that it threw my way. For instance, the “pixel-perfect” controls had me land on an edge of a platform, only for the game’s momentum – which incidentally, is way off – to see me fall onto a bed of spikes, or nails, or… some other form of insta-death hell. Annoying to say the least.
It’s about now where I feel it’s time to talk about the checkpoints. We all love them, right? Well, apparently not all of us. Sinister Cyclops have decided to grant only a few, sparsely populated checkpoints throughout each of the 24 levels. Now, let me clear that up a little – Spartan is exceptionally difficult, especially for a game genre that generally appeals to younger gamers. So to have so few checkpoints, placed between incredibly difficult bits of platforming means you’re going to die. A lot. This is fine in games like Super Meat Boy, where all the action is fast paced and levels are generally designed to be around minute-long encounters at the very most. But the second level in Spartan took me 15 minutes. You might think “wow, that is good value for money!”, but it’s not. Those 15 minutes aren’t enjoyable. They’re agonising, as you push the apparently strong-willed King Leo into doing what you want him to do.
The controls don’t feel quite right either, and as I mentioned earlier, the momentum is a bit off. That’s not the most technical of terms, but I can’t quite put my finger on what is wrong with it, but there is most definitely something wrong.
The overall difficulty of Spartan is a real shame, because it doesn’t need to be as challenging as it is to give you the reward and elation of finishing a level. There are far too many insta-deaths, far too few checkpoints in levels, and just all round unforgiving level design. For example, there is an obstacle which spears extend from, and retract back into the ground. A series of these is so hard to navigate that I had to take a break from playing because it was making me so perplexed. You see, landing on spears that have retracted into the ground will still instantly kill you, which kind of goes against the point of having them retract in the first place.
I think the vital distinction to make here is that relief is not the same as satisfaction. When I beat a level, or a section within a level, I don’t think “that was hard, but I prevailed” I think “Thank God I’m past that bit”. I don’t feel satisfied that the time I have put into completing the level was rewarded sufficiently.
Visually, and Spartan’s graphics are good and there are no graphical bugs or glitches or anything like that. They aren’t going to blow your mind, but they’re definitely not hard to look at. They suit the style of the game well, which is more than can be said for some of the game’s enemies… I’m looking at you, spiders and charging tortoises. Come on guys!?!
I don’t think that I can say, in good conscience that in its current state, you should buy Spartan. The points I’ve mentioned highlight some key areas that have frustrated and angered me while playing Spartan. The good thing is that these are fixable issues (arguably the momentum is supposed to be in the game, but it just feels odd to me) and I have no doubt that in time, they will be fixed. But it’s only possible to review the current game state, and I would urge anyone considering Spartan to do their research and due diligence. If after checking out all the information on the game, you decide that it’s for you, go ahead and try it out!
Just don’t dive into this thinking it’s gonna be Super Mario 300 style though.