The Pang style video game has been around for decades, but it’s just recently seen a revival on the indie market for home consoles. In the past year we have seen: Pang Adventures, The Bug Butcher and now Spheroids take a crack at modernizing the classic arcade genre. Developed by Eclipse Games, Spheroids combines the genres of platforming and Pang to mostly fun results.
The story in Spheroids is filled with government conspiracy and alternate universes, but you aren’t likely to care much. You play as Lucas, a Canadian boy who discovers (with the help of his scientist friend, Otto) that the government is hiding alternative universes from their cubic world. Spheroids are dangerous aliens who are trying to turn everything round, and it’s up to you to stop them. The story takes you to different countries in the world, traversing the environments, destroying Spheroids and collecting coins. After completing one of the eight chapters, the story will continue in the form of laborious dialog between Lucas and Otto. He might explain a new form of Spheroid in the next chapter, but odds are you will just skip all the talking.
Taking a page from Super Mario, Spheroids is played as a side-scrolling platformer. In every level, there is a store where the player can purchase upgrades to their health or the length of their abilities. When battling Spheroids or destroying environments, items such as TNT or a time-slowing clock will fall. These items are always welcome in battle, especially in areas where you must kill all Spheriods to proceed. That isn’t always the case, as it’s generally easier just to run from them and make your way to the exit.
Lucas uses his drilling hook to fire upwards and downwards, popping any Spheroids in its path. He can also use a grappling tether that can swing him across chasms if the appropriate block is there to latch on to. Later on, Lucas gains the ability to walk on the ceiling with the help of his special boots. This adds more depth to the platforming and often, more frustration. Thankfully there are checkpoints that you will respawn at if you run out of hearts. There is no game over, meaning I could die as much as I wanted without much consequence. I liked this choice because I found myself dying often due to the slow rate of fire for Lucas’ weapon. For the younger demographic I feel they were trying to reach, having a lenient checkpoint system makes sense to me.
Graphically the game has a nice semi-8bit style that looks good. Visiting such a wide variety of locations like: Brazil, Egypt, Russia and India gave the developer plenty of freedom to make unique looking backgrounds. The music in each level is also very enjoyable, upbeat and catchy…I just wish there were more songs. Sadly, as time goes on the music gets a bit repetitive and I found myself tuning it out when before I was dancing in my seat. Levels load quickly, which was great when trying to reload levels to grind out some of the game’s achievements.
Responsive controls are crucial to the quality of all platformers, and it really is a mixed bag in Spheroids. Jumping with Lucas felt natural, not too floaty or heavy…and I really liked swinging with the grappling tether. Most of my frustrations came with the gravity boots, as the switch in perspective is a little sluggish. If I were to jump into a chasm and latch onto the ceiling, it just doesn’t happen fast enough for my liking. This meant I was making very floaty jumps, sometimes falling to my death or the opposite, floating off the top of the screen. Fighting enemies while upside-down also felt clunky as Lucas would often fall from the ceiling, even though my attach meter still had time left. Aside from those complaints, the controls are serviceable, the button mapping in particular is very intuitive.
For the most part, Spheroids is a fun platformer and Pang hybrid that older and younger gamers will enjoy. Keep in mind that all 8 chapters can be completed in a couple hours, at a cost of $7.99. This game is worth it for gamerscore fans, but I don’t see many players coming back after earning all achievements. If you are looking for a unique game that doesn’t overstay its welcome, Spheroids might be for you.