Spheroids is all about bursting bouncing spheres, no I’m not joking.
But it takes me back to the earliest days of gaming I can remember, the first game I ever played was Pang and so to see this same gameplay over 20 years later it was surprising to see it hold up. Spheroids manages to take the same core idea of bursting menacing bouncing balloons and brings it into 2017.
The game is based on a simple idea, there are bouncing spheres which when shot will split into two smaller spheres and this repeats until they are eventually destroyed completely. The catch being you can only fire directly above or below you so you have to put yourself directly in harms way if you want to deal damage. The game also manages to sneak a fair bit of platforming in there too to keep it from feeling too stale. Now this may sound relatively straightforward and even dull for a game, but the tension derived from such simple enemies is where this gameplay shines. Each time you manage to split one of the Spheroids, the two smaller versions that spawn also bounce lower from the ground making it harder to get underneath and attack without being hit.
The game slowly introduces you to various types of Spheroids that you’ll need to learn how to deal with from re-joiners, which as you guessed can rejoin after being split, to Spheroids that bounce long horizontal distances but low to the ground making them hard to hit. As well as different enemy types you’ll also gain access to new equipment such as gravity boots or teleporters. This is all done at steady pace, a new mechanic will be introduced and then the next level will often provide you with several scenarios exploring said mechanic, ensuring you’re not overwhelmed with new things to learn.
Alongside the equipment and Spheroids you’ll also have access to power-ups, some can be purchased at the start of each level, others are dropped by enemies once defeated. These power-ups can help make a chaotic fight with dozens of Spheroids suddenly manageable. Nothing beats having several small Spheroids bouncing around you causing you trouble and then picking up a slow time power up allowing you to pick off each of the blighters one by one. At times the gameplay seamlessly flows and can be a joy to play, there are other moments though that feel borderline unfair, the difficulty of a section can suddenly spike and cause frustration. It doesn’t happen often and you can always brute force your way through a tough section if needs be.
Which brings me to my next minor gripe, the game just refuses to punish you at any point, you get three hits before you die, dying resets you to the latest checkpoint which is usually only around 20 seconds worth of progress. Better yet, any enemies you defeat or doors you unlock stay defeated or unlocked when you die. So when there is a tough room, you’ll eventually beat it just through sheer persistence. It’s disappointing that a game with arcade roots such as these doesn’t deliver on a difficulty level but there are worse problems to have…
Speaking of which the last of the problems is unfortunately a pretty big one. Quite often the game just crashed on me, either closing the game entirely or freezing and not allowing any input. It happened fairly frequently though hopefully this is fixed sooner rather than later. Most of the time the crashes occurred when dying so I guess you could always just ‘get good’? It’s sad to see technical issues especially with what seems to be a straightforward game.
All in all Spheroids has some very tried and tested gameplay that when it works holds up extremely well, however a few minor technical issues and lack of challenge stop this from fully embracing the arcade roots that this game could benefit from.