Review: Spare Parts

With an intriguing blend of Ratchet & Clank and the Lego titles, coupled with the genius of Simon Pegg, Spare Parts looks to bring co-op gaming to a wide audience with a mix of collecting stuff, jumping about the place and solving puzzles. Available as a downloadable title from the PSN and XBLA it’s certainly a low-cost option, but as it turns out it’s your expectations that will determine whether or not it’s worth your money.

You play one of two robots, Mart-T or Chip. Having ended up in a damaged stranded ship it is your job to go down to the nearest planet and try to regain the various parts of the ship that have fallen off. With a stroke of bad luck the ship’s parts have landed on a planet full of nasty creatures all intent on frying your circuit boards or removing some of your limbs. Fortunately, the ship’s computer (voiced by the ever-brilliant Simon Pegg) leads you through the combat basics with a brief training session which eventually presents you with your first power-up, or Action Part to use the game’s terms. This Action Part – giving you extra strong arms for pushing and breaking stuff – gets mapped to the right analogue stick along with spaces for the other power-ups which come later in the game. And here lies one of the problems for regular gamers. Anyone who has played a recent 3rd person 3D platform title will be used to using the right stick to spin the camera round, and even after playing the game for several hours it’s almost impossible to kick the habit of trying to move the view to make a tricky jump slightly easier. This does make the controls far more straight forward for casual gamers, but more experienced players could get frustrated by selecting something like X-Ray eyes instead of getting a better look at a tricky angle. The Action Parts do give you something else to think about though, and letting you uncover or access hidden areas that aren’t immediately obvious or accessible might give you an inclination to go back to earlier levels to try and find more stuff.

Apart from the slight annoyance with the right stick, the controls are fairly simple and well mapped out. Combat is generally done with 2 buttons designed to give a quick or heavy attack, and various combinations of button presses will result in a range of combos beefy enough to take out most enemies. Couple that with being able to attack while jumping, and you’ve got the option to mash buttons randomly or be slightly more thoughtful in your attacking. While the button mashing technique works to a degree, some enemies (especially later in the game) need certain attacks to beat, and if you try to do an air attack and miss you can actually damage yourself and lose health. Getting killed isn’t a huge issue though, as in a similar vein to the Lego titles you just lose a few coins and respawn somewhere nearby.

The biggest draw would appear to be the co-op mode, and there are a couple of decent ideas that work well while playing with someone else, be it on the same sofa or online. Some areas and items are tricky to reach without two players, and working as a team really helps to find everything the game has to offer. But as the earlier Lego titles demonstrated the biggest issue with co-op platformers is how to deal with the camera, and Spare Parts suffers from a similar problem by centering on one player, making life difficult for the other. The focus does switch to the other player when one gets killed, but it just means you get to take it in turns to struggle to see what’s going on. This occasionally means you end up thumping each other instead of the bad guys, and some questionable respawning will sometimes drop you right next to a nasty enemy or in a totally inaccessible area that you can’t actually escape from. While these issues are occasional and aren’t game-breakers the co-op mode could have been a great way to spend some gaming time with those in the family who don’t play much, but if you’re unlucky with the random respawning and suchlike the little annoyances might be enough to make them wonder what the fuss is all about. With a bit of luck we’ll get a patch to iron out these problems, but meanwhile it is a little hit and miss.

Ultimately though your opinion of Spare Parts will, as said earlier, depend entirely on what you expect. Graphically the game looks really nice, with colourful surroundings and nicely drawn characters that all move around nicely enough. The sound works well too – there are plenty of explosions and bug squashing to be had, and Pegg’s voice guides you through many parts of the game without becoming overbearing. There isn’t all that much variety to be had though, and although the environments remain colourful throughout the game the gameplay itself – jumping about a bit while punching bugs of varying sizes – remains pretty much the same. If you’re expecting a Ratchet and Clank beater, you’ll be disappointed. Things just get too samey to make you desperate to get through to the end on your own. And even when you do get to the end the insanely frustrating boss battle, which seems like it’ll never stop, will try your patience.

On the other hand, if you’re after a fairly cute game you can play with more casual gamers using the co-op mode then you might have something reasonably enjoyable. Ignore the co-op shortfalls and slight annoyances and you’ve got something that is suitable for younger or less experienced players, even if some later sections will need someone with a bit more know-how to get through. Some people will also be keen to go back and make sure they’ve collected every piece of the ship, but this level of dedication won’t be for everyone. Sadly, when it comes to playing on your own there might not be enough keep you going for the 6 or 7 hours you’ll need to get from start to finish, and I suspect that much is true whether you’re a hardcore or casual gamer.

Good idea, but unfortunately just not executed right.

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