I don’t know a person on this earth who hasn’t played or enjoyed Pang!. An old arcade classic, the premise was simple: fire your vertical firing weapon of doom skywards towards ever bouncing balls of death. Clear them out and job is a good ‘un. Simple as that.
Spheroids does basically the same, but Eclipse Games have tried to incorporate a platforming mindset into the action as well. And to be fair, they just about pull it off. It’s not the best game you’re going to play this year, but it’s certainly not the worst either, providing a pretty fun, but ultimately mindless button mashing experience.
Taking control of Lucus, a small blocky Canadian boy who seems to love pixel art and vector graphics, you are sent off by your crazy scientist friend on an adventure into alternate universes, all in the hope that you can save the world from a new breed of dangerous aliens – the Spheroids. These big orbs are threatening to take over the world and it is up to you to help Lucus, hop, skip and jump across 32 levels and eight locations, popping Spheroid after Spheroid as you do so.
The gameplay is simple, playing out much like Pang! did back in the day, and it’s quite obvious from the very first instance that Spheroids will not tax you or your gaming skills very often. The platforming stages are uncomplicated and the few puzzling moments which have been implemented are some of the most straightforward you are ever likely to see. It all ultimately boils down to wandering into a specific area, firing off as many hooks as you can, destroying all the Spheroids that magically appear and then moving on to the next; all before rinsing and repeating.
In fact, the only real changes that occur throughout all the stages are in the Spheroids, the backgrounds that differentiate between worlds and the overall layout of the stages themselves. Occasionally you’ll find yourself climbing ladders, dropping into portals to move between the foreground and background, or utilising your special skills – with gravity boots and grappling hooks allowing for easier transition, mixing things up a bit. It is the former of these, the gravity boots, which are the most exciting prospect though, giving you the chance to stick to the ceiling, or fly upside down. They do come with a limited time period, and you’ll need to occasionally land in order to recharge them, but on the whole these boots can see you flying through the majority of the levels with utter ease. If you thought Spheroids was easy to begin with, once you get access to these boots, everything becomes ten times simpler.
Another reason Spheroids is a painless, mindless playthrough is that no matter how many times you die – and you will die because occasionally you’ll fall off a ledge, or get overwhelmed by the Spheroids themselves – checkpoints are in regular supply, ensuring you rarely need to backtrack over too much in order to get back to where you were. Add in the fact that all progress made before the death, stays in place, i.e. those Spheroids you originally destroyed will all be gone, then even if you do find a tricky spot, a couple of deaths and respawns, taking out a few at a time, are enough to allow full progress. With the occasional power up drop seeing dynamite destroy everything in a certain area, or a freeze time pick up stopping the bouncy ones in their tracks, you’ll quickly see how simple Spheroids is.
To counteract any boredom, it’s good to see that Eclipse Games have included multiple types of Spheroids, all of which come with their own unique capabilities. Some will disappear after a single hit, others will split, and then split again, whilst more still will come at you at a whole faster pace. Otto, your friendly scientific mate, will also warn you of Spheroids which join back together after being hit, whilst others need a few hits in order to be destroyed. It is only the latter two which really prove to be a bit of a struggle, but that’s only because they take slightly longer to get rid of. If you’re prepared to stand mashing the fire button, then you’ll find no problems.
Unfortunately, whilst you’ll find no problems in saving the world from an alien race, there are issues found in the most basic areas. Grappling with your ever useful hook is random, sometimes attaching to the nearest grappling point whilst at other times ignoring them completely. Hit detection is occasionally off too – all too often I’ve found myself falling from a height, landing on top of a static Spheroid to fully expect to lose a part of my health meter, for absolutely nothing to happen and Lucus to happily stand, unharmed, to continue his fight. I’m also not a fan of the trippy backing tracks which accompany our hero on his quest, and even though they change slightly depending on whether you are visiting Egypt, Africa, Easter Island or any of the other locations, the music irritates a bit too much.
I have to also mention ‘the shop’: your one-stop shop which allows you to purchase additional items to help you on your quest. These are available on numerous levels, and with the collection of coins, you can buy extra health, double and triple hook shots, bigger dynamite explosions or the likes of longer lasting freeze power ups. Now, normally these would be all good, but with the simplicity of the game, the number of checkpoints included and the relatively short level lengths, much of these add-ons and purchasable options are utterly pointless. Granted, I’ve bought a few double shots to allow for more than one hook to be fired off at the same time, but other than that, throughout my entire playthough, nothing else has been required, or even tempted.
So once you’ve hit up each and every locale, smashing all the evil Spheroids that come your way, what exactly is there left to do? Well, not a lot is the answer, for you would have exhausted everything that Eclipse Games can give you. There isn’t even the need to run through things multiple times in order to pick up all the achievements either, as if you’ve been savvy in your approach, will pretty much have all of them unlocked as you complete things the first time. Thankfully, if you do find yourself left with the tease of some nearly unlocked Gamerscore, then the level select option will allow you to pick and choose the best way to full unlocking potential.
Whilst an entire playthrough of Spheroids will only take you four or five hours tops, and nothing put in front of you is likely to test any of your gaming skills, you’ll probably still enjoy the mindless ball popping mayhem that it brings – whether or not that statement says more about me and my gaming ambitions though is another matter. There are issues – most notably with the ‘shop’ which is fairly pointless, but should you be looking for a fairly cheap, simple playthrough and a whole ton of achievement gathering in the process, then you could do worse.