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Spate Review


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On 05/03/2014 at 01:00 PM by Matt Snee

Floating platforms with a touch of absinthe.
RECOMMENDATION:

For those who appreciate more art than game.

For better or worse, games like Braid, Limbo, and other 2.5D “masterpieces” have reconfigured what a platformer can be.  Spate, developed by Eric Provan and his development team at Ayyo, is not as complete a package as these games, but is still an astoundingly beautiful work of art, with truly arresting imagery, an interesting story, and a unique and moody soundtrack.  However, with its tired mechanics, inconsistent controls, and sloppy (yet forgiving) physics, it is hard to quantify, or to even categorize. It is a conundrum, as it stretches between these two poles – one of artistic genius; and the other of uninspired game design. 

Ayyo, headed by Mr. Provan (a Hollywood veteran who has worked for Jim Henson and Walt Disney), is so small it doesn’t even have a company website, and Spate’s home on the internet is a small little place powered by Wordpress.  Still, what Spate has going for it more than anything else is its production values and presentation – which are exquisite.  From the beautiful, startling visuals, to the soundtrack, recorded by a live classical quintet, and composed by Mike Raznick – the game is a feast for the senses.  With its touching story about a father’s tragic love, it also provides a hearty meal for the soul.  Where the game fails however, is in its lack of polish, and its relative thinness as a game.  This isn’t to say that it – like some artsy games – wishes it was a movie or of some sort of other medium.  Spate is obviously meant to be a game and nothing else.  But where it is deep in theme and experience, it is shallow in play – a detraction that might only be a problem for some players, but still, an obvious negative. 

The premise of the game is fairly simple: a private eye has been hired to investigate the disappearance of a wealthy businessman who was last seen headed to a mysterious, toxic island.  You take the role of the private eye, who has an intriguing history himself, consisting of a missing daughter, an estranged wife, and an absinthe addiction.  The game is particularly trippy, though it starts out modestly, but the fact that you can drink absinthe by the pressing the “X” button should give you an idea of where this game is headed. 

Spate takes place in a steampunk dream world supposedly inspired by “the drink”, as the narrator calls it. This gives the developers of the game the opportunity for some mighty strange visuals, some of which are truly haunting and halting, and yet never seem superfluous. 

Ostensibly, the game is a platformer, but this is really only a formula from which Mr. Provan launches his story and his artistic vision.  You will be doing a lot of jumping upon moving platforms and the like, but it’s pretty bland except for a few inspired moments.  One scene where you’re on a rotating rock suspended in the air with other rocks spinning around you gave me a profound and thrilling sense of vertigo.  But mostly, the platforming is pretty tame, and occasionally frustrating. 

There are other parts of the game where you shoot cannons to open puzzles, and still others where you pilot a little steampunk air-boat.  The air-boat parts are actually quite fun, and do a lot to break up the monotony.  You pilot it through dark caves, evading rotating blades and other menacing gears, all with tighter controls than the platforming segments. 

The physics are a little loose everywhere, but your mistakes are mostly forgiven, and if you fall, it’s usually only a short jaunt to get back to where you died.  Your character is equipped with a little jetpack that allows a double jump, and once you get used to it, it feels pretty good, if a little sloppy at times. 

My biggest complaint is that you don’t press a button to crouch,  but instead press down on the control stick.  This seems okay at first, but minor bumps of the control stick can put you into a crouching mode, where you can’t jump as high. There were many a moment where I was attempting to jump, inadvertently go into crouching mode and then fall into a pit.  This simple design mistake could have been fixed very easily, and is way more frustrating than it should be. 

Other than these complaints, I found the game to be quite charming. It took four years of work by Mr. Provan and his programmer, Temo Kokiashvili, as well as over 700 backers on Kickstarter, to make the game a reality. It’s unfortunate that Spate lacks polish since it has such a touching, and almost profound story and presentation.  It’s remarkably difficult to make a game and the fact that Spate was completed and presents such a personal vision is an astounding feat.  I only wish that Ayyo Games had spent a little more time refining it, testing it, and putting as much thought into the platforming as they did the visuals. 

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

mothman

05/03/2014 at 08:44 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Well written Sneeski. the artwork makes me want to check it out. Charming is good too.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/03/2014 at 11:17 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Thanks!  i really enjoyed this one.  It was a nice discovery.

xDarthKiLLx

05/04/2014 at 12:03 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Absinthe addiction and platforming...who'd have thought they'd make a lovely pairing?

I may check it out when it goes on sale.  it's available via Steam?

Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/04/2014 at 08:42 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Yes its definitely worth getting on sale.  

mothman

05/04/2014 at 11:24 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

I actually just looked this up on Steam and it's only 10 bucks. Sorely tempted if only for the surreal artwork.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/04/2014 at 07:43 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Well i liked it. Its pretty short. I think it will be on sale eventually. But i felt good supporting this developer

mothman

05/04/2014 at 08:26 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I was thinking of throwing my support behind them too. If we don't support this kind of game we are doomed to a world of Call of Duty clones.

daftman

05/04/2014 at 02:30 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

First I've heard of this but sounds cool. I do have a soft spot for steampunk stuff. But I bet this will find its way into the Humble Bundle sooner or later, so I'll wait for that.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/04/2014 at 07:44 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Definitely. The imagery is incredible

Super Step

05/06/2014 at 04:04 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Looks awesome, but if the gameplay needs polish I'll wait for a sale.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/06/2014 at 08:26 AM Reply | Permalink | Report

Yeah i think that would be cool

Alex-C25

05/09/2014 at 05:46 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I support some here about getting the game on sale. Your review also reminded me of Contrast, which from what i've seen has something similar going on. That said, don't tell Blake i'm planning to get that one :P

Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/09/2014 at 07:30 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

eh, honestly, this one is better than Contrast.  That game needed oodles of more attention before it came out.  This one just needs a little polish.  They are similar, but this one is better. 

BrokenH

05/22/2014 at 06:01 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I admit I like the surreal visuals. That and who can argue with the awesomeness of a steam powered boat? lol.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/22/2014 at 06:14 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

it's actually like a miniature air ship.  Laughing

mothman

06/15/2014 at 09:26 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Good God man, the platforming in this game is horrendous. I either don't jump far enough or I jump way too far. It's so floaty and unresponsive. Even the first few platforming sections take forever to complete because of the crappy controls and slowdown.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

06/15/2014 at 09:54 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

you get used to it.  Laughing

That's why I had to give it such a middling review despite its beautiful art and music.  It's really too bad because it has so much going for it, it seems like the actual game of it was kind of an afterthought, and never really tested. If you can make your way through it though, it's not so bad. 

mothman

06/15/2014 at 10:07 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

It's sad, because I should be loving the game. I'm going to soldier on anyway

Matt Snee Staff Writer

06/15/2014 at 10:10 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

that's what I did.  It's not bad.  It's a nice game, just kind of amateur.  It's heart is in the right place. 

I think about it a lot because I kind of prefer playing these ramshackle PC indie games, even though they're not polished they're kind of more human and heartfelt than regular big games that are more polished. I'm writing my review of Secrets of Raetikon right now, and it's kind of the same issue -- great beauty spoiled by amateur antics. 

Still, I like my indie games. 

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