When I first saw the trailer for SPRay I thought to myself that the underground holiday hit on the Wii had finally showed up. Here was a game with a creative premise, decent enough graphics and controls that actually utilized the Wii for something only the Wii could do well. I mean, it’s not like the Wii had much else demanding my attention this holiday season and to just see a third party developer put out something that remotely resembled an original idea on the Wii was pretty exciting.
Thus a review copy was sent out to us and last week and, with much trepidation and hope, I popped it into my Wii and booted up the system, hoping that it was the Wii’s holiday savior and that I could come to everyone at TVGB and tell them not to be so depressed, I’ve found a good holiday Wii game. I won’t keep you in suspense on this one; SPRay is not the game I wanted it to be. However, if you’d like to find out how great ideas and design can be ruined by poor execution and controls, read on.
Let’s start with the good, because if I start with the bad it’ll just snowball into the good and then the whole review will be bad. That wouldn’t be fair since Tecmo actually put some interesting stuff in the game. For starters, with the basic concept behind the game is inspired. Players take on the role of the spirited Prince Ray (now you see why they capitalize in the title). Ray’s father’s kingdom has been taken over by Queen Mordack who sent a meteor to hit the kingdom and killed the king, while also covering the kingdom in black antimatter and antimatter creatures. Ray must pick up his father’s crown and wield the spirits that appear to him to save the kingdom. Pretty basic story, but the mechanics behind the spirits are inspired.
The two spirits spray different substances like a hose wherever the Wii remote is pointed. One spirit shoots clean things like water and ice and the other shoots nasty stuff like vomit and slime. Eventually you also get to shoot antimatter yourself. Water cleans up any liquid that’s been sprayed, vomit covers anything, slime lets you stick to walls and slows down enemies, and ice lets you skate on it and jump further. It’s a truly interesting concept that could have lead to some really impressive puzzle solving levels. At the very base, SPRay is actually a game that sounds like something everyone should be excited about.
It’s even set up like many a classic 3D platformer. Like most modern Mario games there is a hub world that has portals to other parts of the kingdom in which crystals the prince must collect are located. Each crystal is its own mission in each world and as you play, you open up different puzzles and sections in the world. In fact it is exactly like Mario in that way. But not in any other way, so please don’t ever think of Mario and this game in together again.
The first big difference is in level design. While this is far from the game’s worst feature it isn’t the best either. While some of the puzzles are truly clever and well done, it just feels like there are thousands of missed opportunities in every level. Sadly, in a game where I should have been constantly thinking “Oh, that was really clever,” that only happened a few times. It’s often unclear where or how to get around a puzzle and sometimes the design is so awkward that a level becomes infuriating because it could have worked with a few tweaks here and there.
Even when the well designed puzzles show up they’re ruined by the game’s flat-out horrible controls. Ray’s movements are loose and sloppy, the Wii remote’s aiming feels sluggish and jumping feels delayed and awkward. Unfortunately the designers thought they had the controls of a top end platformer, so they put in plenty of areas that need precision jumping. Getting through some of the platforming puzzles was simply a test of patience with getting lucky enough to land a jump since actually pinpointing the jump was nearly impossible. Once the prince gets the ability to jump off of ice twice (again a great game mechanic that could of worked) any sense of good controls are thrown out the window.
This isn’t the worst offense though. When was the last time you played a 3D game where you couldn’t control the camera angle, but it wasn’t locked onto your character’s back? Yes, you can’t control the camera at all except to swing it back behind you, which is just about the most annoying thing ever. Even a busted broken camera is better than none at all. There’s also a battle system which has a gimped lock-on system that isn’t even worth talking about. Multiplayer also falls into this category with a host of games that are fun for a bit, but never really offer much more.
Graphically the game is a mixed bag. While some of the characters look decent enough, many of the settings are truly ugly looking. It doesn’t help when you’re spraying everything with vomit and it all starts to blur together into an uninteresting graphical blob. I will give them credit for having every spray and splat players ever do saved. If a player has covered a wall in slime and then they leave that level and come back, that wall is still covered in slime.
Ray and his spirit friends also look pretty detailed, but other characters outside of them are ugly as hell. Whatever good will the developers garnered from me on this is instantly revoked by the fact that the game has no wide-screen option. This is unacceptable in this day and age.
On top of the game making me put my pretty hi-def television to a setting it should never use, it is seriously glitched. I’ll start with the lesser offenses first: Ray can grab onto edges, but you’re never sure if he is going to since the grab animation happens about a second after he grabs the edge. Annoying, but not game ending. Ray can also get stuck in corners sometimes, and other times his controls will just sort of stop. However, none of this really stands up to the fact that about a quarter of the way through my first play through the game glitched so bad I couldn’t beat it — during a boss battle Ray disappeared. The boss kept fighting and I had to quit. I hop back in the level and a switch a I had to flip was already flipped, since everything you do is saved. However, the door that the switch opened was closed and would not open again.
Now this is probably a one-in-a-million occurrence, but it’s emblematic of the lack of polish (the writing is another missed opportunity, by the way) put into the entire game. This sad lack of polish makes what could have been an interesting and fun to play game into a train wreck of a platformer. This is all even more vexing because this is emblematic of the problems with a large chunk of Wii games out there. So bravo to Tecmo for trying something new, but next time follow through on your ideas.
- Interesting idea
- Some clever level design
- Seriously glitched
- Terrible controls
- Poor platforming