Thursday, April 03, 2008

Spring Up! Review

Spring Up!, developed and published by Frozax Games.
The Good: Physics model can produce some interesting puzzles
The Not So Good: Very slow pace with drawn-out levels, impossible to lose, no reward for difficult shots, uninspired utilitarian graphics
What say you? A boring, sub-par puzzle game in the Peggle vein: 4/8

One successful computer game is destined to produce countless others, either as an inspiration point or a complete copy. While the latter option is undesirable (for example, see all of the Tetris clones), I don’t mind playing a game that takes a good idea and expands upon it or morphs it into something slightly different. Peggle (a quality game that I certainly could have given an 8/8 to) has now given birth (so to speak) to Spring Up!, which takes the single-ball-hit-things approach and adds more physics-based puzzles. Will this new entry successfully expand upon the original idea?

The graphics of Spring Up! are elementary at best. The game is rendered in 2-D, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, the levels are very bland. The backgrounds are not very detailed, and, even worse, it is hard to tell the difference between background objects and obstacles, until you hit them. When the graphics hinder the gameplay, then you have a problem. The effects are also basic: just some simple celebrations when you successfully make matches. All of the pageantry of a game like Peggle is absent in Spring Up!, and subsequently the game isn’t very exciting to play. The sound doesn’t help the situation, either: while the background music is not bad, the sound effects are, like the graphics, at the bare minimum. The handful of sound effects that are in the game are repetitive (wood blocks hitting, making matches). So I doubt anyone will be impressed by the graphics in Spring Up!

Spring Up! is best described as a combination of the aforementioned Peggle and BreakQuest (for those familiar with that physics-based breakout game). The game is played by shooting colored balls from the top of the level and attempting to make them hit the like-colored balls below. There are various obstacles along the way, from static objects to spinning ones, that must be navigated around (or taken advantage of, if you are good). The controls are very simple: aim with the mouse and press to fire. The initial path is indicated, although it does not take hitting any objects into consideration (balls or otherwise) to getting really sweet shots is difficult. The physics, while good, seem to transfer too much of the energy to the target ball, as it’s difficult to bounce far distances to access more areas of the map in one shot. While the colored balls and blocks are falling towards the bottom of the map, you can catch them with a paddle for bonus points. Once you remove all of the colored objects, you move on to the next level. Points you earn can be used to add objects to your garden, such as statues and ponds; since these “upgrades” don’t impact the gameplay at all, it is an unnecessary feature.

While the basic gameplay of Spring Up! is fine enough, the execution could be a lot better. The game does give a multiplier bonus that increases if you eliminate more objects in one turn, but Spring Up! does not reward tough shots. The power-ups that may spawn from cleared blocks are repetitive and only come in three flavors (change in paddle size, multiplier increase, or points bonus). Even more distressing is the fact that you can’t lose. There is no limit on the amount of balls you can shoot, so it’s just a matter of time before you beat a level. Because of this, playing Spring Up! is a trivial exercise that requires no skill; you’ll get a bigger score by playing better (though “playing better” is simply hitting more objects in one turn, not pulling off tough shots), but getting a high score grants no in-game bonuses so it’s simply symbolic. In addition, it can take quite a while to clear a level, thanks to the dampened physics: three to four minutes is typical for a single level in Spring Up! and this should be halved. Three to four minutes might not be bad if the pace of each turn was quickened or the game was ripe with crazy bonuses and spectacular shots. But, at it stands, Spring Up! is boring and trivial, two things that do not make for a satisfying game.

It’s clear that Spring Up! is designed for the very novice player, and if you would rather play a breezy game that can’t be lost then you might have a good time with Spring Up! It seems that most of the issues I have with the game could be easily corrected. While the built-in gameplay would be fine for a kid’s mode, a more advanced gameplay option with more exaggerated physics, faster objects, limited shots, and more meaningful bonuses would be greatly appreciated. There is a good game in here somewhere, but the default (and only available) options make Spring Up! monotonous for anyone who is proficient in puzzle games. I think Spring Up! is typical for a first game from a small developer, and hopefully improvements will be made in the future to expand the gameplay to make it more appealing to a wider audience. But I think most people will find Spring Up! to be too bland and too easy to be enjoyable.