Spark The Electric Jester 2 is unquestionably a Sonic The Hedgehog fan-game with the branding filed off, specifically in the vein of the 3D Sonic Adventure series. Imagine those poorly-aged (but much-loved) Dreamcast classics with better controls, fewer (but not zero) cutscenes, and where every level was about going super-fast, except for boss fights which play a bit like Metal Gear Rising Lite. It's the work of solo dev Feperd Games, and out today. While it undoubtedly has some rough edges, I've had a fun few hours rushing through its main story on normal mode. Below, some thoughts.
Unlike the smoothly blended 2D original (see Amr Al-Aaser thoughts on it here), Spark 2 feels like it has a bit of an identity crisis, along with its angsty robot protagonist, but is still a good time. Much of the game - around 2-3 hours for a single run through its levels with minimal downtime - is spent dashing forward, hopping between platforms. The levels themselves are well designed and large, with complex structures like the enormous vertical tower above, but I was seldom unclear on where to go for more than a second or two. Deaths from missed jumps were surprisingly few and far between, too.
The game's other half is its combat, which is (bosses aside) largely optional, simple and button-mashy. Smaller enemies can just be bounced off with a homing dash attack, ala Sonic, but larger baddies with health bars need to be bashed a bit. Or you can just ignore them and run straight past. On a first playthrough, there's not much reason to hang around and fight, but there are both speed and score medals to be earned for each level, the latter of which does encourage trading blows. It's a curious mix. Still, its parry system is used during platforming too, allowing you to block lasers, fire and even spike damage.
Odd combat rhythm aside, my biggest complaints with the game, from biggest to smallest, would be the narrow high-speed roads the game relies on in the later stages. They're pretty easy to fall off, and unless you can land on a loop on the fall down, you can't really right yourself beyond reverting to a checkpoint. Second, the boss battles are almost entirely parry-focused. Listen and look for the attack cue, tap block if you've got the timing down, hold it if you don't, then mash attack. Lastly, the story - while committed to its bonkers, Shadow The Hedgehog-ish direction set by the first game - ends on a cliffhanger.
I feel this one's going to divide opinions, because 3D Sonic games - let alone their derivatives - are videogame marmite to begin with. Still, I'm satisfied, but feel like I've only scratched the surface after just one run. While not much is unlocked after completing the game, there's a ton of little secret areas to find with concept art in them, plus I only earned a couple score medals the whole way through. I'm curious to see how long it holds up under further scrutiny. I'm not sure I'd give it a straight recommendation right now, but it's a a very interesting game, and has my attention.
Spark The Electric Jester 2 is out now on Steam for £15.49/€16.79/$20.