15th Jan2019

‘Mana Spark’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

mana-spark-header

There have been a serious amount of twin-stick rogue-likes released in the last few years and whilst Mana Spark is a nifty little game, it doesn’t offer enough to separate it from the pack and make it a key title, although fans of the genre will find something to take away from the experience.

Set in a world where mana-powered monsters roam the landscape and humans are treated as pathetic remnants, the game begins with a small encampment of scattered folk vowing to fight back against the monster horde. Beginning with an archer, you make your way through several stages, getting deeper into the monster lair and fighting bosses along the way. The main bulk of the game is spent working your way through the procedurally-generated stages, collecting mana runes and coins from enemies in order to upgrade your character to get incrementally further into the game with each dive. Upon dying (and you will), you’ll respawn back at the encampment and can gear yourself up for another delve.

Presented in a chunky pixelated style, the visuals get the point across cleanly and the music is suitably sombre with piano runs backed by ambient sounds. This, combined with the lush artwork on the main screen is all a nice package. There are however some issues that impinge on the enjoyment of the game.

The first (and more minor concern) are the loading times. Even after a recent patch it feels like you spend just a tad too long staring at a black screen with ‘loading’ in the centre, it seems longer as there’s nothing to enjoy as you wait those few seconds, artwork or lore to read, for example. I don’t normally get bothered by loading times but due to the games grinding nature, you die a lot and the early levels can be finished in a minute or two so it makes the waiting times more prominent than they perhaps should feel.

The second issue I had was the targeting system for the initial character, the archer. You’ll spent quite a bit of time with him and the camera focuses on your reticule as opposed to the character, zooming over to centre on it whenever you take aim and this results in some serious jerking action as well as making firing at an enemy more cumbersome and unnatural that it should be. I really feel that if the camera focused on the player character at all times it would be a much smoother and more enjoyable experience.

There’s a lot to love aside from these gripes, the choice of a handful of unlockable characters adds variety as does the ability to take chance cards occasionally upon dying which can bestow bonus buffs, as does giving runes to characters in your camp which can unlock other sub-attacks, tricks and equipment. Whilst there is a fair amount of variation in level layout and certain combinations of enemies, can be tricky and result in some really satisfying moments of dodge-roll combat, that level of variety isn’t always present in all aspects of the game.

As a sub £10 title for Switch, this is a neat little game for those twin-stick lovers out here. As a single-player title it’s great for a quick blast of action on the move and the ‘peculiar room’ that you enter every three stages allows a chance to not only upgrade items but save your game. The bosses are pretty straightforward and it’s reaching them that will provide the challenge as opposed to the boss fight itself but I don’t think any of the players will be enamoured by the initial archer character’s targeting system or the slightly irritating loading times. Aside from that, Mana Spark is a neat little game, although it probably won’t stay in your mind for too long after finishing it.

Mana Spark is available on the Nintendo eShop now.

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