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Impressions: Super Splatters

little goo balls

I have to confess that I'm playing Super Splatters with my feet propped up on my desk and a joypad in my hands. I could play it with the mouse and keyboard, but this just feels right, which makes sense as it was previously an Xbox 360 game. Now it's here on the PC, and I've spent the morning bursting goo balls over bombs, and tactically smearing my viscera to the delight of a TV audience. It is an odd and delightful game.

It is, at heart, a pleasing and surprisingly charming action puzzle game about clearing bombs from a screen. Each level is a self contained maze populated with bombs that are set off by the innards of little goo balls. The player controls these coloured gobbets, firing them across the screen and aiming their bodies in such a way that they hopefully rip open, dropping their innards across the level. If enough of the slime covers a bomb, it explodes. If you think about it, it's a grim proposition: like a kids show made by the Taliban. But that's alleviated by the joy that the blobs have in what they do. They really seem to want to be splatted.

You're fighting gravity and angles to achieve that perfect shot. Initially, all you're doing is aiming and shooting, or maybe using the curve of the level to swing one of the blobs around in the opposite direction. You point the smiling blob in the direction you want to and charge up the shot. A powerful enough splat will split them open and serve up paint-like innards. You're hoping that those splats will coat enough bombs, but if not you can always tee up another goo.

Things can be a little bit more directed, though. First, you're introduced to a rewind and fast-forward trick, where you can push and pull time to your liking. The blob's reaction to this is to slosh around a bit more, maybe getting caught on more scenery and spilling more goo over a layer of bombs, or if he's sliding around you can use this to boost momentum. It's like remixing your shot, enabling you to snatch a victory from a narrow miss, or turn a winning shot into a something more spectacular. That matters: the more tricks and combos you pull off, the higher the score. And if you're truly proud of what you did, Super Splatters has an in-built recorder that you can upload clips from. These serve a few functions: if you're stuck, you can download someone's winning attempt. But if you hunt for the best clips, you become aware of what your collection of trickshots are capable of. And down that road lies obsession. I lost about twenty minutes trying to split one of the little goo blobs down the middle so he splatted two awkwardly placed bombs. It didn't matter how much he smiled at me, time and time again I'd split his body apart for my own enjoyment.

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The cute graphics and silly atmosphere hide a fairly impressive physics simulation: the blobs popping, tearing and sloshing is incredibly satisfying. The unpredictable physics can sometimes snatch a victory away from you, but it's never frustrating to the point where you'd rather quit than continue. It has Peggle's stickiness allied to World of Goo's charm.

Progress adds to your moveset, so on top of the chronological twisting, you can also change direction mid-air. It can be used to direct a shot around an angle, or to add a boost to a shot that might not have the momentum to split open. It's most important when levels start demanding things of you: the 'Master Shot' levels will demand you do a certain series of tricks, without any of the shuffling that the initial more freeform levels allow. Combos can be built up, and there are levels dedicated to stringing together trick shots, even allowing them to continue to the next level, which creates ridiculous scenarios where you have simple shots to pull off, but you do it in the most complicated way in order to keep up your score. I love these levels, because they teach the player to not look for the easiest solution. They revel in the gloopy physics simulation, but they also gives it structure. I learned how to join the goo balls together, as well as using them to drag lines of bombs into position. For the limited amount of control you have, you can pull of impressive stunts.

It's such a strange game to like, but I really do. Partly because it's a big mish-mash of inspiration that also manages to be its own thing. The personable little goo balls having chats about what they're about to do are cute and entertaining, the burst of graffiti and fireworks when you complete a level doesn't reach Peggle's heights, but it makes up for it with apparently individual motes of coloured glitter. It's a tough game to explain because like all good puzzlers it does everything it can to be more than just a series of levels. We're in the midst of a heap of good games at the moment, and I wish I'd played this more fully before now and told you about it. Even if you've bought every good game this week, this is worth adding to your wishlist.

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