The evolution of the digital console marketplace over the last six or seven years has really been a sight to behold. At its inception, Xbox Live Arcade seemed like a promising enough concept, offering a mix of simplistic, sometimes addicting original downloadable titles with remastered retro games (presumably) polished for modern consumption. XBLA may have looked like little more than a trifle early on, but as the years went on and developers became more and more aware of what kinds of things could actually be done via a digital platform, innovative, provocative, and straight-up brilliant games began to evolve out of the digital primordial ooze. Now, even the most simple and easily digestible games coming to the platform often feel worlds beyond the games that helped put the service on the map in the first place.
Having seen this evolution first-hand, I find the existence of The Splatters altogether bizarre. This puzzle game from SpikySnail Games Studio feels like some lost XBLA title from 2006, like it just wandered in from the cold after years adrift at sea, totally unaware of what's happened in the six years that transpired since. Its insubstantial puzzle mechanics and generally bare-bones presentation are the stuff of yesteryear, somehow transplanted into a time that's all but forgotten that games like it ever existed. I don't say this to accuse The Splatters of being a terrible game, because it certainly isn't. But it's hard to get too excited about a game that feels more like it should have been collecting dust on your hard drive alongside Cloning Clyde and Marble Blast Ultra for the last half a decade, as opposed to appearing in 2012 for a $10 price tag.
That antiquated feeling permeates every aspect of The Splatters. The cutesy visuals don't offer much beyond a few adorable blobs and some peculiarly inconsistent level art--like, why is there a giant shoe on this one level, while another features a giant soccer ball embedded in the geometry? The music and audio effects sound culled from the bottom of the license-free barrel. And the mechanics, momentarily interesting as they are, fail to evolve into anything beyond a halfway interesting physics demonstration.
The Splatters takes its premise from the "death in service of awesome" concept more or less created by the Lemmings series, and used time and time again in modern downloadable games, including recent titles like Swarm and World Gone Sour. The titular Splatters are colorful, sentient blobs, whose sole purpose in life is to be flung at gooey strings of "bombs" that explode when contacted by the blobs in their liquid form. In order to blow up these gooey bomb strings, you launch the Splatter folk at them, aiming to make them explode into a slimy mess all over the bombs, which then explode.
Think of it like a mix between Angry Birds, Puddle, and PAIN, if that simplifies things a bit. You're killing these blob dudes to create stunts, which are long chains of maneuvers that allow your blob to destroy vast strings of bombs in one fell swoop. In order to do this, you've got a few different moves at your disposal. You can re-launch yourself mid-air to change direction, double-tap the A button to send your blob flying like a laser-guided missile (and creating a massive burst of Splatter goo in the process), and even reverse time/physics to bring wayward bombs back toward your perpetually raining goo.
It's these mechanics, and the unpredictable (in a good way) physics that give The Splatters some legs. If it were just about shooting blobs at weird looking things that lightly explode, then it would literally be the dullest game currently on XBLA. Messing with these different maneuvers gives the gameplay a bit of variety and a moderate amount of satisfaction. It is legitimately kind of cool when you shoot a blob in one direction, have it fly back in another, and then reverse the physics a few times to nail some extra bombs you wouldn't otherwise hit.
Unfortunately, the number of maneuvers you're given to play with runs out pretty quickly, and that variety dwindles. For a few hours, The Splatters is a decent amusement. Playing through the various stunt- and combo-oriented stages is fun for a few hours, but after that it wears thin. There is the option to keep pushing for crazier and crazier stunts, which you can then post up on the game's equivalent of YouTube for Splattering, but even the most ludicrous stunts on there aren't quite ludicrous enough to justify spending hours trying to generate them.
Back in the day, The Splatters would have probably made for a decent little $5 amusement. $10 is a bit too steep a price for a puzzle game as rooted in antiquity as The Splatters. Maybe wait for a price drop, and a particularly empty weekend schedule to pop up, and you'll wring what fun there is to be had out of The Splatters.