I started playing Splinter Zone without very high expectations: It’s a run-and-gun platformer (not my favorite genre) that advertises a lack of story (story is my thing). However, as I started playing it, I found myself smiling and enjoying the simplicity and single mindedness that Splinter Zone presents. The game also presented a couple of interesting takes on how to tackle difficulty and level design that really impressed me.
Splinter Zone is one of the two games for the Winter Selections of Jay Tholen‘s Videogame Lookclub. The other is Legend of Hand by Cloak and Dagger Games (John Inch & Shaun Aitcheson), which we also reviewed.
You don’t know who you are, or how you got here. There’s no explanation for any of this…
There’s only one thing you can do. Endure the challenges that get thrown in your way, learn them as best as you can and find a way to escape from this eternal punishment.
Fight. Not to save the world, but to maybe save yourself.
First, let’s discuss cheating. Splinter Zone is not what I’d call an easy game, and rather than address this with a meme-y command to “git gud”, Splinter Zone just lets you cheat: no hoops, no hurdles, cheat away.
At first this struck me as odd, but I warmed to the idea that through the in game “cheat” menu, you are essentially setting your own difficulty for the game, adjusting the damage you take, the damage you deal, your ammo, or your own invulnerability. You’re presented with these options each time you start the game, and I thought it was a novel and unique way to approach difficulty.
After making it past the cheat screen, you’re dropped right into the thick of Splinter Zone. There’s no backstory, no setting, no convoluted reasons for you to be running through this other than your own survival. Usually, I’m a fan or deep lore and story, but the complete lack of it actually worked. Splinter Zone simply tells you it doesn’t matter, and tells you to get running. I ended up really liking that.
Each time you start a game in Splinter Zone, an infinite chain of levels is created for you to jump, dodge and shoot through. These are not truly randomly generated levels, but instead are pre-constructed levels, and the order in which they appear is random.
There’s a good variety of levels, so you’re not interacting with the same four levels in a different order, which would take a lot of the magic out of this. Additionally, there is a sense of learning that is often lost in truly randomized game levels. You start learning sequences of jumps, when to expect enemies, and when to prepare for tough sections. It leads to a nice sense of personal progress I didn’t expect when I started.
Splinter Zone‘s graphics are steeped in nostalgia, hearkening back to classic Mega-Man titles, full of florescent, bright colors. I’m not as nostalgic as some about that particular era, but I thought that the art style suited the fast paced nature of the game quite well. One thing in particular I did like was the attention to detail in the art and animation.
For example, when the character jumped out of a pool of water and stood still for a moment, they started shaking their head and spraying out water droplets, drying off. There’s lots of little details like that in Splinter Zone if you look for them.
Splinter Zone was a real surprise for me; I’m not a huge fan of run-and-gun platformers, usually turn to game’s for the story, and I’m not incredibly nostalgic for the Mega-Man games of old. Yet, despite me checking NONE of those boxes, I really liked Splinter Zone.
All things said and done, Splinter Zone is faced paced fun that does some interesting and innovative things to addresses difficulty and level design, controls solidly and looks great. It might be a game about eternal punishment, but it sure don’t feel like it.