Sparkle 4 Tales is a strange one, mainly because it is a classic case of a video game trying too hard to be a piece of art, rather than being something of compelling gameplay value. It is designed to be a sonically-infused existential trip which ends up instilling confusion rather than wonder. It has the music, the fancy visuals, and an interesting premise, but all these elements come together to create an experience which feels rather superficial at best.
Video games can, yet should never be, art; they need to be games first and foremost. Gameplay should never be an afterthought. Despite what some indie developers might choose to believe, games like Sparkle 4 Tales shouldn’t be condescending towards the idea of being something that players can enjoy. Artistic presentation is all well and good, but give players a reason to pick up the controller.
It’s hard to explain how Sparkle 4 Tales works, especially when the title is so unusual. There are text prompts explaining the premise of the game and how the purpose of its various gameplay systems work, but the problem is that these prompts are presented in the tiniest font imaginable. It is impossible to read unless you walk right up to your television screen. This is probably the biggest issue of Sparkle 4 Tales: it feels like an afterthought port to Xbox One, rather than coming with proper optimisation. Even the basic menu design doesn’t fully accommodate the console setup, and the resolution doesn’t quite translate well.
As a game the best way to describe Sparke 4 Tales is that it’s like Pac-Man infused with existential nihilism. Imagine if Pac-Man himself suddenly realised the futile nature of his Groundhog Day existence inside the maze, with the maze suddenly becoming a metaphor of the wheels of confusion. Much like the arcade classic, in Sparkle 4 Tales players take control of some lifeform thing where the objective is to collect these pellet-like orbs. There’s a bit more to it as players will need to collect other objects and reach new areas, but generally the idea is to float through mazes and collect these pellets.
The core gameplay mechanic isn’t particularly interesting: the controls are functional and movement feels floaty but there isn’t much there to make the player feel involved. The gameplay variety does change up a bit, especially when the non-descript lifeform evolves and learns a few new tricks. The game design does also change up, such as the on-rails segments and when more adversaries enter the maze. Still, even these ideas end up feeling superficial. The evolutionary forms can be a little interesting, but beyond a few runs there is very little to encourage players to keep coming back for more.
The strength of Sparkle 4 Tales is probably in its presentation. The music and sound design are certainly on point, but then it sounds like something that should be playing in a massage parlour rather than in a video game. It certainly is relaxing but, much like the rest of the experience, it feels superficial and quite contrived. The visual presentation is interesting, but as mentioned it seems like it has been hastily ported to Xbox One rather than properly optimised for its output resolution.
Sparkle 4 Tales on Xbox One is a great example of how a video game can never simply just be a piece of art, as it needs to have gameplay substance which goes beyond just superficial fodder to make players pick up a controller. There is certainly an attempt to evoke some sort of existential wonder, but it all comes across rather pretentious, especially when the game design as a whole just feels rather superficial. It’s best described as a nihilistic Pac-Man, but even then, Namco’s ‘80s classic has more artistic and cultural merit. Much like existence itself, there is really no point to Sparkle 4 Tales.