Splasher

Platformers with tight controls are a thing of beauty. Effortlessly flowing from one platform to the next, avoiding enemies and one-hit deaths, is a rush of adrenaline that few genres can offer. A boss battle in a difficult game like Dark Souls or the final minutes of a close sports game may offer the same rush, but not at every second of every level. That’s the kind of rush that Splasher is going for. Splasher is a 2D platformer made by a former level designer for Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends and the pedigree makes sense. Splasher aims to play like those titles and other 2D indie platformers that offer tight controls, fast paced gameplay, and instant death when you screw up.

Splasher plays out like most platformers in that it's a series of levels. There is an overworld that is actually fun to explore as you can only do so as you gain new abilities. Gaining those abilities grant you access to new levels as well as new speedrun levels. As with most platformers, speedrunning is not only expected, it's encouraged. In fact, the game has specific speedrun levels to entice players that are into that gameplay element and that's a neat edition. When a game is so focused on level design and gameplay, it's nice to see something like a specific speedrun mode make its way into the game. 

Knowing the creator’s history with the new Rayman titles helps you understand what kind of game this is right off the bat. It’s a platformer with a beautiful, cartoon art style, crazy levels filled with moving platforms, obstacles and enemies to avoid, and insane platforming sequences that will make you question where or not you’ll ever beat the game. You play as a splasher, a worker at Inkorp who just wants to do their job. Unfortunately for the splashers, the evil boss of Inkorp is beginning to experiment on them and creating horrifying creatures. By using your ink cannon you jump, stick, bounce, and shoot through a decently long campaign to defeat the evil boss. But story isn’t why I come to games like this.

With any platformer, it’s all about level design and controls. Splasher has some great, if unforgiving, level design that feels a tad unfair towards the end. At the start, things are simple. You are given a water cannon that can be used to remove different kinds of paint, eliminate enemies, and help you get around the level. You move through levels, rescue other splashers, and get a hold of the ink you need to unlock the last splasher of each level. Collecting your friends also unlocks new speedrun levels in the overworld. As the game progresses your cannon is granted the ability to shoot both stickink and bouncink. Stickink grants you the ability to run on walls and ceilings while bouncink lets you bounce great distances and in between walls. It’s all very straightforward as lots of games have mechanics where you wall jump or run on walls, but it’s the way Splasher combines these elements that makes it special. Once you have all the ink cannon’s abilities, a typical run can consist of sticking and running on walls, bouncing off at the last minute before a laser hits you, taking out an enemy in mid air to activate a platform that you land on before bouncing off to the nearby checkpoint.

It’s all very fast-paced and death is inevitable. In fact, it’s likely you will die many, many times in Splasher before you see the end credits. Like any game of this nature, you need to stick your landings and execute your jumps just right in order to succeed. If you take too long, mistime your jump, or guess your angle incorrectly, you’re boned. While the game has a generous checkpoint system that will respawn you at various stages of the level, there are definitely a few areas that feel unnecessarily difficult, especially towards the end of the game. A lot of the levels involve long stretches of grueling platforming that require you to use each and every ability you have in order to proceed and to use them all at just the right time. Due to environmental obstacles like saws, lasers, and enemies, you really don’t have a lot of time to sit still and think. This is both a blessing and a curse.

While Splasher has a great sense of speed and momentum, it suffers from asking too much of the player at times. Each of the two inks, water, and the jump button are mapped to the four face buttons of a controller. That means that while you’re running to the right you need to press down and Y to spray the floor with bouncink, soar through the air and press up and B to stick to the ceiling, keep running on the ceiling, spray an enemy with water while still pressing B to remain moving forward, and then press A to jump off the ceiling to a platform because pressing Y to bounce with the bouncink will be too much of a jump and you’ll die. This sounds like a one-time crazy sequence but it happens a lot throughout the later levels. It’s not a bad thing necessarily and it is definitely doable, but where the problem comes in is the sometimes unreliable nature of the controls.

Much like in fighting games, I sometimes had difficulty getting the game to register that I was aiming up or down for certain things to happen. That means I was left out to dry and usually ended up dying because of the error. Similarly, I had a lot of weird moments where the game’s somewhat auto-aim on enemies caused me to miss a platform or when the auto-aim didn’t activate, miss an enemy that I needed to hit. It didn’t happen too often but it happened often enough that I wished the game told me what I was doing wrong or how I could fix the issue. Part of what makes games like Splasher great are those moments where you see what you need to do and you execute it to beat the level. There were a few times in Splasher that I finished a level and wasn’t sure what I did differently to complete it. I often felt like the game fell flat in those areas where it asked too much. 

Don’t get me wrong, Splasher is a great platformer and deserves to be played by any fan of the genre. If you enjoyed games like Super Meat Boy or Rayman Origins you’ll enjoy the frenetic pace of Splasher and the demanding controls. You have everything you need at your fingertips, you just need the dexterity to finish what you started. I appreciate what Splasher does with the four buttons because it’s opening up the genre and experimenting with what’s possible. Another platformer where you jump through levels would probably be dust in the wind but Splasher stands out because it takes a chance with its unique, if sometimes frustrating, controls.