Developed by Queen Bee Games, and published by Akupara Games, Spinch is an indie platformer released on September 3rd for PC and Nintendo Switch. Spinch‘s most striking feature is its unique look, which was imagined and brought to life by Canadian cartoonist Jesse Jacobs. Jacobs’ vibrant mash-up of 16-bit era pixel art, early ’70s era psychedelia and his own distinct style is truly a thing of beauty. The gameplay is fast paced and fun… Until it’s not. Spinch hits a wall at the halfway point that it never quite recovers from. That said, there are a lot of great moments in this gorgeous mixed bag.
Story – Color Me Badd
Like everything in Spinch, the story is psychedelic and minimalist. You play the titular Spinch, a monochromatic ball who lives in a world where colors are alive and they want to eat your children. You would prefer if your children stayed alive. That’s about all the context you get in Spinch. The rest of the story is, basically, you travel through six worlds, find your children, unlock hidden bonus stages and fight colorful bosses. Frankly, this is about all the story you need for a game like this. I can’t imagine that learning the color’s motivation for eating children or something like that would make me more invested here. This one is really all about the running, jumping and dodging.
Gameplay – High On Difficulty, Low On Checkpoints
Spinch is a tough platformer, built around speed and precision. Your abilities are limited to run, jump and dash, but that’s really all you need. The controls are tight, and zipping through the levels is a lot of fun. At its best, Spinch reminds me of Sonic The Hedgehog. Speed isn’t essential to the game, it just makes it a lot more fun. There are some great gimmicks here too, especially a level where you need to find hiding places from a whale who drops screen-clearing bombs.
Each level contains three Spinch kids, and some include hidden bonus levels. The way they’ve incorporated the kid collection mechanic and the bonus stages is really clever. Each kid you find is used ammo against the boss at the end of the world, as are the bombs you earn in the bonus stages. (You never get another chance if you fail a bonus stage, which is a touch of tough love that I really appreciated.) The more kids and bombs you collect, the easier the bosses are.
The boss battles are really unique and fun, too. Each one is a variation on the same theme of controlling a cannon that shoots your offspring, but they’re all unique and challenging enough that it never gets old. Right up to the halfway mark, Spinch does platforming right. But then, the whole thing comes undone by a simple, yet crucial flaw.
Rather that organically ramping up the difficulty, starting in stage four, Spinch just starts getting stingy with the checkpoints. This may not sound like a fatal flaw, but it truly hampers the experience. So much of Spinch requires trial and error, so the further the game sends you back each time you die, the more frustrating it gets. I’m no stranger to tough-as-nails platforming, but when you finish a punishing section and get no reward, it doesn’t feel satisfying- it just feels like a rip-off. I started leaving so many collectibles on the table because it just didn’t feel like it was worth the risk anymore.
Another downside to the checkpoint shortage is that Spinch starts getting really repetitive. Every time you’re forced back to the start, every little flaw becomes more and more visible. The health system is sloppy, (if you collect a heart when you have full health, you get an extra hit. Collect it without full health, and it just refills a hit point and then disappears forever), the mechanic where you collect 50 dots to become invincible results in a lot of wasted invincibility. These are minor gripes that I wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t have so much time to think about it while slogging through the maze, or the water levels again and again.
Graphics and Audio – Psychedelic Pixels
The looks department is where Spinch really shines, the whole thing just oozes creativity. You’re simply not going to find another game that feels like this. The enemy design and the creatures in the background are all fun to look at. Even in its most frustrating sections, I found myself pressing on because I couldn’t wait to see what this game was going to show me next. Jesse Jacobs should be immensely proud of his work.
Same goes for the music: The techno inspired chip tunes were old school, but they never got old. Composer James Kirkpatrick perfectly sets the mood for each level and environment. You’ll be listening to some of these songs quite a few times, so the care that was put into this soundtrack is really appreciated.
There’s only so many ways to say this is a gorgeous game, so I’ll let the screenshots do the talking. Clearly the developers let Jacobs and Kirkpatrick let their imaginations run wild, and built a game around that. As a result, Spinch is one of 2020’s best looking and sounding games.
Spinch was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.