Review: Spark the Electric Jester 2
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Despite the prevalence of modern Marios and high-profile successes like A Hat in Time, the 3D platformer genre is a small one. It’s not hard to see why, because engineering clever levels and satisfying movement is far harder in 3D than 2D. Even some big franchises like Sonic had a tough time bridging the gap, but not Spark the Electric Jester. As decent as the first game was at being a spiritual successor to the Sonic of old, this sequel manages to outshine its inspiration in Sonic Adventure, and improve on an impressive amount of the design. It also falls into its own pitfalls, but none so deep that they’d keep you from enjoying this high-speed adventure.
You might remember Fark as the mechanical imposter who hounded Spark all through the first game. Well, Spark is a hero and the evil Freom is gone, which doesn’t leave much for ol’ Fark to do. He’s been hanging out with Professor Armstrong, who recently came up with a way to access Fark’s lost memories regarding his origins. Unfortunately, the good doctor is whisked away by a new cadre of meddlesome robots, leaving it to Fark to get him back. He’ll speed his way across the many plains and cities of their idyllic, high-tech world, before discovering more about his past than he might like, and uncovering a new threat to all life, human and robotic, on the planet.
That’s as far as I’m getting into the story, because much like the first game, it’s a mess. Unlike the first game, though, it’s not told by an embarrassment of cutscenes, and honestly that might be part of the problem. Spark 2 introduces a whole cast of new characters, but limits their appearances to just a few establishing scenes. The dialogue tends towards cryptic as well, so it’s remarkably hard to follow who’s loyal to whom and who all wants to kill Fark. These scenes are also uncomfortable tonal shifts from the technicolor zaniness of the levels, often leading from childish insults to a character getting dramatically stabbed and dying a tragic, tearful death.
But it’s fine if you’re not here for the story, because the levels more than make up for it. The original Spark did a good job of having huge, sprawling levels to speed through or explore, much like the best Sonic levels. Somehow, the developer effectively translated that into three dimensions for Spark 2. The game’s dozen or so levels are remarkably huge, filled with platforms, towers, tracks, traps, and secrets. Seriously, if you see something neat off in the distance of a level, you’re probably going to end up over there after a few spring launches and loop-the-loops. Gems, health, and powerups dot the many paths and platforms around you, along with disks that unlock a proliferation of concept art. You could spend 20 or 30 minutes in each level just exploring, looking for odd paths, or checking out the scenery.
You could also fly like the wind and beat the level in 2 or 3 minutes, too. Fark is insanely mobile in this game, with a lightning-fast run, a dash to get up to speed, a huge double-jump, and a lock-on attack that makes bouncing off of enemies or springs a breeze. The main paths are usually dotted with accelerators to get you up to speed, and once you’re there it’s easy to keep up the pace as you leap and soar across the level. You’ll find plenty of curving, looping tracks connecting larger platforming areas too, which are incredibly fun to zoom along. Or at least until the final levels, where most of the platforming falls away and you’re challenged with staying on thin paths with no walls. The graphics help a bit, with the bold colors and simple shapes making it remarkably easy to see where you can and should go. I should probably mention here that the sound design has suffered since the last game, with few memorable musical tracks and some very underwhelming effects across the board.
You’ll notice the sound the most when running or in combat, but taking the high-speed approach also removes most of the enemies from consideration, as there’s nothing forcing you to fight common foes. It’s almost a bit of a shame, because Fark has a decent 3D combat system based on basic combos and parrying. You can find powers along the way and hold three at a time, though I think there’s only like six total in the game. Some are clearly dominant over others as well, not that I didn’t expect that after the first game. Bosses are where your skills will be tested, particularly your ability to parry, because you can stun even the toughest foes with a well-timed block. Most of them are pretty fun, though the train boss was a bit confounding and things take a decidedly Dragonball Z turn for the finale.
If you haul ass, you can easily beat Spark 2 in like 2 hours. Obviously you’ll miss out on huge swathes of the levels, but it’ll also be some of the most rewarding, fast-paced platforming you’ve done in 3D. There are plenty of difficulty levels to choose from, six in all, and I can vouch for Easy making combat mostly a non-issue for the first two-thirds of the game or so. Beating the game unlocks some unreasonable challenge modes, so in terms of replayability you’ll want to focus on collectibles and scoring medal times on stages. It’ll be worth it to revisit these worlds, though, because they are beautiful, fun-filled spectacles. Spark 2 is a big step forward overall, bringing the series into a fantastic world of 3D action and mayhem, with very little holding it back.