What do you get when you mix a physics-based puzzle game with suicidal blobs of paint, all mixed with some fancy acrobatics? You get The Splatters, of course. I took this game for a messy flip to see what it was all about.

It’s difficult to describe The Splatters without actually showing you the game in motion. Even still screenshots don’t do the game any justice, so I’ll leave this video clip here for you to watch, just in case my explanation gets too wibbly. No, watching the clip isn’t mandatory, but it might help clear some confusion.

Try to follow along with my words if you haven’t seen the video…it could get confusing. So there are these living blobs of colourful…stuff, and they’ve decided that suicide is the way to go. Not just any suicide, but going in style. In Splatter terms, this means spreading out your body liquid over as wide an area as possible. The way to clear each level is to trigger every single one of the level’s bombs, and these bombs go boom when they come in contact with Splatter body fluids. I’m sure you can see where this is going. What makes things a tad harder is that the bombs are colour-coded for the different colours of Splatter. Thankfully, the clever people at Spiky Snail games have provided a colourblind mode for people like myself.

Some measure of fun, certainly, but clearing the level of bombs isn’t the way to do things. It’s not stylish enough. To rack up the points, you need to do tricks, and to REALLY rack up points, you need to chain the tricks together into combos. Initially, only a few tricks and abilities are open to you, but as you progress you get more and more abilities and stunts to work with.

One of the initial basic stunts, for example, is the Air Strike, a simple move that allows you to change direction in mid-flight and splatter your Splatter all over bomb matter. Later on, you get access to the Flip, which is less a time-reversal than an inertial reversal technique. Performing a number of flips in succession is a U-turn, and getting comfortable with all these manoeuvres is key to not simply passing each level, but passing the levels well. And in style.

The Splatters can be a little confusing to come to grips with initially, but by the fourth or fifth level, you’ll get the hang of it. It helps that you don’t have to play the controller like a musical instrument (you’ll get a lot of use out of just the left stick, A, and LT!) The game introduces the various stunt concepts and moves to you in stages, allowing for several levels’ worth of practise before revealing another ability. This helps you to come to grips with what you’ve learned before moving on. Like I said before: playing is easy. Playing skillfully is a completely different paint-filled ball game. And make no mistake: this is a game of skill.

The Splatters is a typical example of “easy to learn, hard to master”, but you’re never left on your own to master the game. If the game thinks you’re struggling, it can always show you a way to complete the level. Of course, simply replicating what you saw isn’t always easy, but it can help show you where you might have been going wrong. If that’s not enough, the game also has something called “Splatter TV”; essentially a collection of game replays. You can upload your own spectacular shows if you wish, but if you’re in the top ten scoring plays of a particular level, the replay is saved automatically. It’s simply fascinating to watch The Splatters in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing. Plus, you may even learn something, and in so doing, figure out how to surpass a posted high score. I’ve yet to do this myself, admittedly.

I didn’t face too many problems with the game at all: certainly no game-breaking glitches. The one thing that might become an issue that it’s ridiculously difficult to repeat a move or a stunt. Part of this is due to the aiming mechanism, but it can make replaying levels a little on the frustrating side. I also did encounter one problem trying to pull off Air Strikes, where the game sometimes refused to register that I’d pressed the A button a second time, but these were few and far between, and difficult to replicate.

Like many games of its ilk, The Splatters is either best played in short bursts, since each level will take you less than five minutes to complete. It will take much, much longer than that to master. If you’re the kind of person to get easily frustrated with “keep trying till you get it right” type games, The Splatters may not be for you. I suspect this game is also not quite for you if you’re not the type to wrestle a game down to its knees with your bare hands and force it to submit to your will. If you ARE that kind of gamer, though, The Splatters will be more than sheer heaven for you.

I doubt there are many people out there who don’t enjoy physics-based puzzles, though, so while it may be a little on the short side if you’re just a completionist (you can easily simply pass all the levels within about 4 or 5 hours–note, “pass”, not “master”. That takes way more time), it’s innovative splattery fun for the asking price.

Final score: 8 acrobatic, splattery prawns out of 10

Detailed information:
Developer: Spiky Snail
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: XBLA
RRP: 800 MS points
Release Date: 11 April 2012
Website: http://spikysnail.com/the-splatters/