Growing up as an avid Nintendo fan, it’s inevitable that the games I’ll come to play in the present will be compared to some extent to classics from the legendary company. I’ve done so numerous times within my reviews, including directly comparing Rising Dusk to Donkey Kong Country with the very first line in the article. In some ways, one could see these comparisons as unfair, assuming that indie games are being compared with AAA games, which yield much higher standards and workload resources, setting indie developers up for failure. The way I see it, should indie developers hone their craft and compensate for what the AAA titles did poorly and correct them, there’s all the more reason these comparisons serve as compliments. This applies overwhelmingly so with Spoorky, a game that functions so similarly to Super Mario Maker that this review could almost serve as an indirect review for the latter.
But where Super Mario Maker serves as a toybox of nostalgic Mario objects, Spoorky is something entirely new, leading to surprises around every corner. The element of surprise is this game’s ace in the hole, leading to innate curiosity picking apart every inch of available content until it’s exhausted. This fervor goes a long way in making a game that feels antiquated all the more robust.
Spoorky is available to purchase on Steam for your regional pricing.
In a traditional review here on this site, “Story” comes before “Gameplay” in the hierarchy of headers. However, when a game provides absolutely nothing in terms of story, there’s simply nothing us reviewers can do but address it directly underneath the new lead header. Spoorky, like Super Mario Maker, is like a large toybox, with anything and everything serving as tools for the larger picture of creation and incongruent situations. Whatever story is possible for Spoorky the pig, it’s limited to what any specific creator does within their level.
From a general standpoint—concerning controls, button inputs, performance, etc.—Spoorky is as polished as one would expect from a typical AAA title. I had zero issues whatsoever playing the game, with framerate consistently staying around sixty frames per second no matter the circumstances, adding to the fast-paced nature of platforming and sword action. It’s always important to focus on the basics before delving into the “fun stuff” that many games seem to overlook, with Spoorky passing the test with flying
As to what incoming players can expect, Spoorky is primarily a platforming experience, with some hints at action through use of Spoorky’s sword attack. One can jump on (certain) enemies and swing a sword to kill (certain) enemies, with precision timing being necessary to advance through (certain) levels. However, the objective of each level is, at its base objective, to find a sparkling acorn at a certain point within it. One is also greatly encouraged to find three cake pieces scattered throughout a stage to “100%” it, leading to more goodies to collect and bragging rights to achieve. Think of it like collecting keys to unlock the exit at the end, except the exit isn’t technically locked.
With the remark about “precision timing” before comes the first complaint concerning the game. Spoorky as a controlled character is fairly loose and borderline slippery, making for an occasionally chaotic run from one end of a stage to another, with the biggest pain coming from spikes. Within a stage, one is given the opportunity (assuming the creator provides them) to collect fruit to both increase their score at the end of the stage and serve as protection from one-hit KOs (think rings in Sonic the Hedgehog games). With spikes, should one touch them, Spoorky is knocked back at the opposite angle at which he touched them and is given no invincibility shield, occasionally resulting in quick and inevitable death (should more baddies/spikes be around). This makes stages where spikes are placed in close proximity borderline impossible to complete, especially when the process is repeated for long spurts. With the way Spoorky controls, these instances create far more frustration than fun, with levels containing these instances being automatic skips for me.
Fortunately, frustration is more of a shadow to the overwhelming body of fun the game provides. Outside of the garbage tactics various creators use to make levels hard, there’s a great deal of creativity and appealing problem-solving to be had within the game’s mechanics. Certain enemies give rise to opportunities for extended airtime, items create different approaches to advancing in a level, and a “dig” mechanic gives depth (pun intended) to exploration (and trolling). Said dig mechanic is a rather simple, yet effective measure of giving life to levels, providing tunnels and underground pathways, which open up upon entering, to an otherwise one-dimensional assortment of land resources.
Upon the topic of land resources, the Create Mode, where one creates levels, is fairly easy and issue-free. I was somewhat surprised by just how expansive one can make their level, bordering the width and depth of Super Mario Maker. One doesn’t start out with much, but through playing levels online and 100%-ing them, one accumulates coins to use as currency in a resource shop. Even with everything, however, the variety of items is somewhat limited, with many simply used as decoration pieces. I found myself having far more fun playing the challenging levels by other people than I did creating my own, with a lack of opportunity to be unique hampering my progress. With what’s available, it’s more than enough to inspire a decent number of stages, and the more one makes, the more others can play. It’s more fun when everyone does their share.
To those wondering just how much content is currently available through game modes, know that the comparison to Super Mario Maker applies in that case, too. There is no story to be told, so the game is designated as a “pick up and play” style of reference. One can create stages and play stages by others, the two major sources of time one can dedicate to Spoorky, with all else serving as miscellaneous tidbits. One can shop for items using coins, participate in weekly challenges that are open for three days out of the week, and participate in a Training Mode, which comes with (currently) eight pre-made stages that introduce the concepts of items and enemies to new players. Otherwise, there’s nothing more to discover. I’ve logged just about ten hours into the game at the time of writing this, but I unlocked everything available (sans shop items) within an hour.
Graphics & Audio
Spoorky is a game that lets its gameplay and performance do the talking. What will ultimately be the calling card for its appeal to new players is in its mechanics. Even so, the aesthetic value of the game is nothing to sleep on. As someone who indulges in a lot of video games featuring pixel artwork (it makes up nearly half my catalogue as a game reviewer), I feel Spoorky has a good, but not great quality of pixel art, emphasizing cartoonishly colorful vibrancy over everything else. Some things are a little hard to distinguish in terms of like-materials, but that’s little more than a nitpick, ultimately. What stands out most visually, again, is the dig feature within the Creation Mode, which quickly dissolves large bodies of land to reveal hidden tunnels, which is always a nice sight to behold.
What feels a little underwhelming is the variety of settings currently available, with only grassy plains and icy fields available as a general make-up. This leads me to believe that there will be more to add in the coming future, but as it stands, it’s a very limited appeal to level aesthetic. Not to mention, seeing these two constantly gives rise to repetition, making it harder to distinguish levels from one another (somewhat alleviated by decoration parts available in the shop).
The soundtrack of the game is also extremely limited, but for what’s available, it’s appropriate and occasionally catchy. I would be surprised if there were more than ten tracks to the game’s current soundtrack—that’s how limited it is. I can think of themes to the Create Mode, tropical stage, winter stage, and main menu, all of which I like. Generally upbeat and triumphant, it adds a lot to the carefree and competitive spirit of the game. Even outside that context, the soundtrack is one that would end up on anyone’s playlist, assuming they like the, er, “genre” it applies to. (Does “video game music” count as a genre?)