Sparkster
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • System:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Konami
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • JP 09/15/1994
    • US October 1994
    • UK 1994
Score: 75%

This review was published on 05/04/2017.

Sparkster is a side-scrolling platform video game developed and published by Konami for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was originally released in Japan on September 15, 1994, North America in October 1994, and Europe in 1994. Konami made another game bearing the same name and box art that came out around the same time on the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive, but it's completely different from the SNES one. Both Sparkster games are follow ups or sequels to Rocket Knight Adventures, which was also developed and published by Konami for the Genesis in 1993. However, only the Genesis incarnation of Sparkster was billed as a sequel to Rocket Knight Adventures, with the SNES version being more of a retelling or reimagining. At the very least, the SNES Sparkster is a game play sequel. Despite the first game in the series not being named after him, all three titles star the same titular character, Sparkster. In this review, we'll be taking a closer look at the SNES version of Sparkster, which is a bit disappointing in face of the original Rocket Knight Adventures.

Image

As the title clearly indicates, this game follows the exploits of Sparkster, an anthropomorphic opossum. What the title doesn't indicate, but the box art does, is that he's also a knight with a rocket strapped onto his back, referred to as a "Rocket Knight." Presumably, he creates plenty of sparks with his rocket, hence his name. In this game, he lives in the fantasy kingdom of Eginasem, which is a land inhabited by other anthropomorphic animals. The story begins with Generalissimo Lioness, leader of an army of anthropomorphic wolves, invading the peaceful kingdom of Eginasem. Sparkster's evil counterpart, an opossum Rocket Knight clad in dark armor named Axel Gear, is also involved in the skirmish. During the explosive assault, Generalissimo kidnaps Princess Flora. It's now up to Sparkster to rouse his roaring rocket so he can save the Princess and the world. You always have to save a princess in these games.

Image

One thing this game does better than Rocket Knight Adventures is the graphics. The color palette is nothing short of amazing, the backgrounds and foregrounds are intricate, and the sprites are big and detailed. In addition to all of that, there are countless special effects that are quite impressive for the SNES hardware. These effects include a morphing effect, reflections, and various transparencies. Many of these effects are displayed in the very first stage, with statues transforming into living enemy soldiers that then rush out to attack you, reflective bodies of water, and transparent mists. There are times when this game almost resembles something running on 32-bit hardware. That shouldn't come as a surprise, because newer consoles like the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation were just around the corner at this point in time, so the SNES had to up its visual ante to compete. This game's only visual blemish is that it has occasional bouts of slowdown. Regardless, this game is definitely a sight to behold.

Image

You control Sparkster for the duration of this daring adventure. The standard controls apply; left or right on the d-pad makes him walk in those directions, down makes him crouch, up makes him look up, the B button is used to jump, and the Y button is for attacking. Like in Rocket Knight Adventures, Sparkster is armed with a sword that shoots a damaging beam. This beam disrobes anything it touches, causing enemy soldiers to flee in embarrassment. Also like Rocket Knight Adventures, Sparkster can hang off thin, horizontal objects like tree branches and bars with his tail. While hanging around, Sparkster is able to climb left or right by pressing those directions on the d-pad, jump off by pressing the B button, or drop off by holding down and pressing B at the same time. One new move Sparkster has in this game is a fiery roll attack; the L button makes him roll left and the R button makes him roll right. The roll damages some enemies and can be done in the air, but doing it too many times in a row will momentarily stun Sparkster. It's not terribly useful, but it sure does look cool.

Image

Returning from Rocket Knight Adventures is Sparkster's ability to rocket around at the speed of sound. Holding down the Y button causes a meter near the top of the screen to gradually fill up, and releasing the button when the meter is at its apex will activate Sparkster's rocket pack. If no directions are held down on the d-pad during this, Sparkster will simply do a spinning sword slash attack. However, if a direction was held during the launch sequence, Sparkster will rocket in the held direction for a few seconds, demolishing any vulnerable enemies or breakable objects that get in his way. Utilizing this method, Sparkster can rocket in eight different directions. Not only does this give him a sudden boost of speed, but it also allows him to fly for short distances. He'll also bounce off walls like a maniac, potentially getting into trouble. Due to that, the rocket ability must be used with caution. Useful both in attacking and exploring, the rocket pack is an invaluable tool for every Rocket Knight.

Image

Compared to Rocket Knight Adventures, the stage design in the game is all over the places. Most stages are filled with big, wide open areas that don't have a whole lot in them. Collectible jewels, which net you a 1up for every 100 you get, attempt to fill up all the empty space, but they do a poor job of it. These unnecessarily open environments result in a distinct lack of direction. Even though all the stages are linear, it can still be hard to pinpoint exactly where to go due to the confusing layouts. It gets really bad in the second stage, where the designers resort to plastering flashing arrows everywhere, but this hardly helps. Also, the overly large sprites and uncooperative camera occasionally make it difficult to see what's up ahead. Every stage in Rocket Knight Adventures was like a work of art, taking you from one amazing set piece to another, featuring nonstop action and extremely tight design. This game's meandering nature slows down the pacing considerably, often to the point of becoming boring.

Image

To liven up the doldrums that is the normal stage design, some stages contain gimmicks. For instance, there's a bit in the submarine stage where water starts rushing into all the rooms, and you must quickly rocket away so as to not drown. Then there's a music themed stage where you avoid the arms of a big robot as it plays the giant piano you're standing on. One of the more inventive gimmicks is in a pyramid with rooms that shift around whenever you pass through certain doors. While some of these gimmicks are okay, some are annoying. A good example of a bad gimmick is the one in the third stage, which has you riding a robotic ostrich while avoiding enemies and projectiles. This stage automatically scrolls at extremely high speeds, barely giving you time to react to anything. Additionally, similar to Rocket Knight Adventures, there's a single stage that takes on the appearance of a shoot 'em up game. However, the one in this game plays like a vertically scrolling shooter instead of a horizontally scrolling one. Either way, it's not particularly exciting. The gimmicks in this game annoy more than they delight.

Image

Depending on the selected difficulty, you'll play a different amount of stages. Higher difficulties reward you by letting you play more stages, so you'll miss out on content if you play on Easy. In order to play every stage in the game and fight the true final boss, you must play on Hard or higher. Passwords that retain your progress make this process a little easier, but inputting them is a bit tedious. When on the password screen, you must make Sparkster climb tree branches and attack tiny icons with his sword to change them to the desired picture. On the one hand, this is a creative way to input passwords, but on the other hand, it's far less efficient. At any rate, this game is pretty tough on the higher difficulties, even with the aid of passwords. If you want to see all the stages and bosses, then you're going to have a really hard time.

Image

It's certainly not a bad game, but Sparkster isn't the masterpiece that Rocket Knight Adventures is. The pacing is far too slow, the stage design lacks direction, the bosses are tedious, and the music isn't anywhere near as good. Just about the only thing this game has over Rocket Knight Adventures is the quality of the graphics, which is admittedly outstanding. If you go into this game expecting the same level of excellence as Rocket Knight Adventures, you'll undoubtedly be disappointed. As for why this game turned out so different from its predecessor, both in style and substance, it's likely because most of the people that worked on Rocket Knight Adventures left Konami by this point, forcing the company to assign a mostly different team to work on Sparkster. This new team either didn't understand what made the original so great, or they lacked the ability to replicate it.

Word Count: 1,562

Tweet