Type Game
Date 2014-05-13
Series ShuffleComp 2014
Tags interactive fiction


Compared to Nova Heart, the last game I played, Sparkle is a much more traditional piece of interactive fiction. Not merely because it's parser-based and written in Inform--it has very much the traditional feel of interactive fiction. The introduction ends with "The road ends here at an abandoned cable car platform. The cableway leads directly to my destination. I must get it running, somehow.", and inspecting the cable car reveals that it is locked to the platform with an iron bar, which is attached to the platform with bolts. I will need a wrench!

With this as motivation, I explored the surroundings, coming to a gate guarded by a dog. Then the game instructed me to "Find a quiet place to MEDITATE." I'd just seen such a place, so I did as instructed, and the game revealed a piece of information--"dog equals flute"--and a new mechanic: "With this information I can CHANGE things INTO their counterpart identities. I can also THINK to recall previously learned information."

I was fairly excited by the possibilities, at this point, but I'm afraid that Sparkle didn't quite live up to my expectations. The rest of the game involves solving some pretty standard puzzles with the aid of the new mechanic. That's all pretty solid, but the only way to learn which objects can be changed into which others is to inspect some objects, and then meditate. Some of the objects you've examined may work with the new command. Or maybe not.

My biggest disappointment with this game is that the changing-things-into-things mechanic turns out not to actually be a puzzle. The game tells you, of this mechanic, that "the key to true enlightenment is to observe the Pattern and to understand it," but that's a red herring. The pattern is that there is no pattern--according to the game, anything can be changed into anything. That's not actually true, though: objects can only actually be turned into the counterparts the game specifies, and only after the game tells you that you can, too--nothing clever happens on repeated playthroughs.

Despite my disappointment with the game's unique mechanic, Sparkle does have a few things to recommend it. There are a number of optional puzzles, listed by the game as achievements. I didn't get all of them, but they seem to be well-integrated into the game. For example, during one event, you're told that your clothes get wet, and later you discover an umbrella--the obvious thing is to (on a subsequent playthrough) get the umbrella first, and protect your clothes. And, indeed, this yields an achievement--nice. The achievement system does seem to be a little buggy, though--I got some achievements that I didn't actually complete, and I think it didn't always notify me when I got one.

Also, Sparkle is written in first person, but can optionally be put into second person, which is a neat gimmick.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with this game. If it gets a post-comp release fixing the trouble with the achievements system, I might like to go back and try to complete some of the optional puzzles.

Play time: about 45 minutes.


From Karly Di Caprio, 2014-05-20 at 6:57 p.m.:

Hi Tracy, thanks for the review. It would certainly be cool if the player could change anything into whatever they want, but unfortunately the 3-week development time wasn’t quite enough for such a complex mechanism, and not quite in the spirit of the song that was used as the inspiration.

The achievement notification system could certainly use more thought. The current assumption is that when you do something to an item that affects its counterpart the achievement is awarded at that point, not when you finally change the thing into what is actually the target of the achievement (e.g. if you do something to the flute, it’s assumed that the change applies immediately to the dog as well). The reasoning for this was that otherwise the notification could be too far removed from the actual action and it might be confusing for the player to grasp what they did to get the achievement. Obviously the current system has drawbacks on the opposite end, and it’s not even followed consistently, so I’ll try to think of a better system that would avoid both problems.

I’m also not ruling out a possibility of a bug in not seeing a notification at all, but are you sure the achievement wasn’t something you had already unlocked during a previous playthrough? The system remembers unlocked achievements across sessions and doesn’t re-notify about previously unlocked ones.

Apart from notification timing issues the achievement system should work in the comp version, so if you want to complete the optional puzzles now it should be possible.

My reply at 7:46 p.m.:

My concern wasn’t so much that you can’t just create whatever you want (impossible, of course), but that you can’t, for example, change dog into monkey wrench. Since the game knows that you’ve beaten it, and has told you that ‘anything can be changed into anything’, it’s a little odd to see “An umbrella is not the true nature of the dog.” on a subsequent playthrough.

The achievement system definitely has bugs. I had both “First Guess” and “Veterinarian” before I completed those–in fact, before I completed the game, which makes the first one completely impossible for me to have already achieved. Also, I never got the notification for “Clean Dog”, so I’m guessing that it, too, had been unlocked from the start.

Name Role
Karly Di Caprio Author