Spartan is a platformer which has you take control of King Leo. King Leo’s riches have been stolen and now it’s up to you to navigate through 4 harsh worlds to reobtain your wealth and fame as well as to teach those who have humiliated you a harsh lesson. Leo must jump, slash and climb to navigate many obstacles which would otherwise result in a quick death. Does Leo have what it takes to recover his riches? There’s only one way to find out.
Repetitive Music: One of the cardinal problems with Spartan is the extremely repetitive music that is employed by the game. The music is uninspired, extremely generic and loops endlessly throughout the level. Whilst this may not seem like a problem initially, when combined with the fact that there is only 1 soundtrack per world (excluding boss levels) and there are 5 levels per world, it becomes extremely monotonous to listen to the same piece of music over and over again. This is further reinforced due to the fact that the later levels can be 30-40 minutes long, when coupled with the 5 levels per world, it’s possible to be listening to the same song for 3+ hours straight.
Broken Physics & Controls: For a platformer to succeed it must have extremely tight controls and a good physics system. Super Meat Boy, Shovel Knight, N+ and Trials Fusion are all examples of different types of platformers which have good controls that allow you to overcome many of the challenges in their respective games. Spartan on the other hand, is barely responsive and extremely “floaty”. The player can barely manipulate Leo once airborne which is counterintuitive considering the game requires precision platforming. This is even more apparent in the second world, where a new gimmick is introduced: Jet streams. Jet Streams act as a boost to launch the player character airborne allowing them to reach higher locations. The main problem is that the Jet streams are unresponsive either launching Leo too or not high enough and causing you to hit conveniently placed spikes up above, resulting in a death.
Wall climbing is another big feature of platformers as it enables your character to jump from wall to wall to gain height. Spartan again drops the ball in this regard by offering extremely ridged controls when wall climbing. If the player lands on a wall and touches the left analog stick, they will immediately stop wall climbing and most often than not, fall to their death. For the player to successfully wall climb, they must jump on a climbable wall and then let go of the left analog stick and simply mash the jump button. Mashing the jump button to climb walls in Spartan is also something which is relatively common. The height gained from wall jumping is extremely lackluster and thus it normally takes 20-40 repetitive wall jumps to climb up a small shaft. In comparison, in games like in N+ or Super Meat Boy even the largest walls can be climbed with as few as 4-5 jumps.
Broken Hitboxes: Leo has a sword that is used to cut down enemies such as spiders, roman soldiers and even wild animals like boars. The salient problem with the sword is the hitbox. Unless you are standing right near the enemy when you swing your sword, there’s a very high chance the attack will simply phase through the enemy dealing no damage. This is extremely important because some sections of the game require the player to kill enemies to open up the path forward in “Gauntlet” style arenas. Due to the bad hitbox of the weapon it’s more often than not that you’ll get hit whilst you hit the enemy.
The bad hitboxes are not only isolated to the main character’s weapon. Many of the interactable objects such as springs (Purple Jelly monsters) exhibit visually incorrect hitboxes than what would normally be expected. Often times to pass through an area you would need to bounce on these springs, but unless you land directly in the centre of the spring you will simply fall through it and most likely land in spikes and die.
Lack of direction: To supplement the above points listed, Spartan is simply riddled with unacceptable game design choices. For example, every level in the game requires you to obtain 5 pieces of an object to open the portal at the end of the level. These pieces are scattered in pre-determined locations. Since Spartan is extremely expansive and as stated can easily take you 30-40 minutes to fully explore to obtain these pieces. The drawback is that in these open levels which are non-linear, half the time you have no clue where to go or where these pieces are located. This is especially apparent when the player collects 4 out of 5 pieces and is unable to locate the final piece. There is no map or radar to assist the player in these scenarios, which results in the player constantly back tracking to find the hidden piece they missed. This is a rather common experience when playing Spartan as the pieces required to complete the level are, most often than not, hidden away in secret locations.
Pointless “Wimp Mode” Difficulty: In Spartan the player character has a health bar. The player has 3 points of health, and upon getting hit they’ll lose 1 health. Once the player’s hp reaches 0, they die and respawn at the nearest checkpoint. If the game becomes too difficult, you can change the difficulty to “Wimp mode”, which grants access to an additional 3 health points which are stored in a bank to use. If the player gets hit once and drops to 2 health, they can use one of their banked “health points” to replenish their health. The issue with this, is that firstly, once you switch to Wimp mode and gain the additional 3 health points, you can only use it once per level, so once you use up all 3 banked health points it’s no different from playing on the default difficulty. Secondly, despite having 3 hp, the stages in Spartan are riddled with many spike traps, spears and axes which automatically one hit kill you. So even if you played on the “Wimp mode” difficulty, you will still die in one hit by majority of the threats in the game, which completely negates the whole hp system employed since 95% of the obstacles you encounter are one-hit kill traps.
Bad Game Design: If at any point your controller disconnects mid-level, you will automatically be returned to the title screen and lose all progress. Compounded with the fact that levels can take upwards of 30-40 minutes this will become very infuriating.
No real reward for collectables: In addition to the 5 key item pieces which are required to complete the level, there are numerous coins scattered throughout the levels. These coins will determine your rank once you complete the level. Obtaining all coins in a level will reward the player with a “King” rank which unlocks art in the game’s gallery. Whilst the art pieces are a decent reward, there’s no real reason to go out of your way to collect all the coins barring one achievement and the gallery artwork. Collecting all the coins is a long and arduous journey considering the sheer abundance of coins per level. Initially levels have 300 or so coins each with later levels having anywhere between 500-1500 coins each. With the sheer abundance of coins, these levels can easily take over an hour to complete just by searching every nook and cranny for missing coins. Again, like with the key item pieces, there is no map or radar system. So, if you miss one coin you are exempt from obtaining the elusive King rank, thus even more time is spent looking for any coins you have missed. It seems that the coins are merely included to pad out the relatively short game to extend its playtime.
Spartan is the best example of how not to make a game. The game is inherently flawed with its many glitches and bugs, shoddy physics, bad controls and has extremely repetitive gameplay which permeates throughout the gaming experience. Words unfortunately do no justice to describe how awful this game is and it must be played to truly experience the horror. Furthermore, Spartan also costs $15.99 which is extremely laughable considering the state of the product you get in return. Spartan feels like it belongs on the Playstation 1 and not the Xbox One.
Spartan was developed and published by Sinister cyclops. It was released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (reviewed) on August 23rd, 2017 in North America. A press review copy was provided for The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.
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