Spheroids is a 2D platformer made up of pixel-art environments.
We understand that that's about as off-putting as an opening line of a review can be, but that's what Spheroids is – and it doesn't do very much else.
Set in a world in which circular aliens called – get ready – spheroids have invaded Earth, it's up to our protagonist (who probably has a name) in order to save the world along with his mad scientist friend who supplies him with tech. As you can guess, the story isn't very enthralling, and what very little narrative there is expressed through awkward, silent cutscenes in which our two characters exchange some dialogue about a new type of enemy or gadget.
But it'd be unfair to mark Spheroids down on story, right? 2D platformers aren't popular because of their well-written narratives, but because of their fun gameplay and personality. It's just a shame that the game doesn't have that either.
Essentially, the main mechanic in Spheroids – other than running to the right and jumping – is the ability to shoot a harpoon vertically in order to kill the various enemies you encounter. For the first few stages of the game, this simplicity is relatively fun – albeit extremely average – and as new types of aliens are introduced, the gameplay gets a little more varied: one type of spheroid splits into more when you shoot it, while another will unite into a bigger spheroid if two smaller blobs collide.
However, after the first two levels, things go way downhill thanks to new mechanics being added just for the hell of it, to the point where it feels unpolished and even low-effort. A rope used for swinging from certain points and anti-gravity boots are suddenly incorporated briefly, and then neglected for the rest of the game except for one or two levels. It feels like the developer rushed these abilities in without considering how to implement them in future levels.
This also reflects on the addition of new enemy types. After the first few types of spheroids are introduced, things start to get quite messy; there's an awkward section in which an invulnerable spheroid chases after you. In another instance, a spheroid that falls to the ground quickly suddenly appears in a level, only to be officially introduced by the protagonist a few missions later. A common theme when playing Spheroids is that something will often be spontaneously introduced and then sporadically used.
The general mission design, too, feels quite flawed. While there are a few sections of pure platforming, most of the gameplay in Spheroids consists of being locked into one section of the level by laser beams and then being tasked with defeating all spheroids in the area before you continue. Once again, in the earlier stages this works pretty well, but as the game progresses the developer seems to say "screw it" and fills the screen with aliens as an illusion of harder difficulty. Not only does this make the game more frustrating, but it kills off any sense of skill-based gameplay.
Glitches start to arise in the latter half, too: some aliens phase out of walls, other times they get stuck in ladders – particularly annoying if you have one life left and need get on said ladder – and a lot of the time you can get spheroids that line the walls of the later levels and quickly deplete all of your lives. There are quite a few exploits as well that make the game much easier and allow you to quickly kill spheroids without putting yourself in any danger.
While the pixel design of the two main characters is quite charming, there's a very weird clash of art styles in many of the levels of Spheroids. The environments and obstacles are often made up of pixels themselves, but for some reason the alien has a 2D Microsoft Paint look that seems very out of place in a supposed retro platformer. Oddly, whenever you die, your character's corpse seems to be drawn in a South Park style, which seems like a weird design choice.
Speaking of dying, that's also been handled quite badly. On the one hand, Spheroids is quite lenient concerning death; checkpoints are placed regularly in the early levels and there's no way to actually fail a mission. However, in the later levels – a recurring theme in this review – the game becomes very harsh with its checkpoint placement, and often puts them behind menial platforming sections that include just as much waiting as they do moving.
All of these messy factors culminate in the final mission, which is perhaps the most poorly-handled part of the entire game. While there is technically a final boss (the only boss in the game, at that) it's invulnerable and not very dangerous – though the screen is flooded with enemies, so you will die eventually – and the mission literally consists of five minutes of futile fighting before you teleport somewhere else, hit a switch, and kill the boss. It feels so abrupt and rushed – there isn't even a credits sequence after, just a final awkward cutscene and you're sent back to the main menu like nothing happened.
While Spheroids is relatively fun in its early stages and does the basics well, it ruins itself by adding in too much complexity too quickly without thought. The levels are formulaic, frustrating, and suffer from quite a few glitches and bugs, while the story is almost non-existent, the cutscenes awkward, and the ending abrupt.