Queen Bee Games has finally released its flagship, psychedelic platforming-adventure, Spinch. At first sight, Spinch appears to be either be a typo for 'Spinach', or a colourful journey about an egg-shaped parent, protecting its babies from being eaten by an evil face. Did we mention it also uses its children as ammunition to bring these colourful foes to their ultimate demise. Best yet, when you first open up Spinch, you will find that there is so much more to it. But the real question is, does Spinch fall into the category as being a strong entry into the retro style platformer? Or is it another Indie entry, which gives us a sub-par gaming experience? Read our review below to find out:
Spinch on its surface is your typical platforming adventure game experience. Like many of the other games before it, you can run, jump, scale walls and dash through its colourful levels. Spinch has a straightforward premise, with tight and responsive controls, although it does stand out from the crowd. Spinch adopts a multiple approach methodology to its level, using masterly crafter designs to create natural routes. Each route has its unique experience, some being shorter and harder to navigate, whilst others can be longer but less rewarding. Although, due to the nature of this, sometimes the game requires pinpoint timing and fast reactions to the continually evolving environment. Whilst we enjoyed the challenge that Spinch presented, it wasn't without its flaws in its control scheme. We found ourselves struggling with dash mechanics. Spinch will dash in the direction that it is looking only. Therefore if you need to dash off of a wall climb, chances are, you are going to dash into the wall. In the chase sequences, you will find yourself dying A LOT. I wish that there were direction dash options, with the left trigger being dash left, and right trigger being dash right. This function would have made some of these fast-moving traversal moments a little more fluid.
Spinch's strengths lay in its excellent level design. Levels are the right length to hold your attention, but they all are unique in design, making it hard to become bored whilst playing. Spinch prides itself on its complexity and difficulty. On appearance, the levels look quite simple, but when facing into them, you'll find that they are a lot harder than they first appear. Jumps require reasonable control of your Spinch to nail tight landings, which honestly will be approached with a 'Trial and Error' methodology. Though, due to this complexity, it's important to know that Spinch has 'Checkpoints'. If you fail/die you Spinch will return to the specific point that you collected the checkpoint. The problem arises that in some levels, the checkpoint system seems to be inconsistent. There are some levels with some genuinely hard moment, and when you beat these, you'll usually find a checkpoint. Although in some of the most challenging moments, that is not always the case and you may find yourself having to repeat a moment over and over again, growing more and more frustrated.
Speed-running is another significant aspect of this game. Levels do not have a time limit to be beaten, like popular titles before this, although you are timed. The timing of each level completion is saved into your Switch or PC challenging you to beat that time. Speed-running makes up for the majority of Spinch's replay-ability. Each level feels like it can be mastered. Between the masterful level design and this 'want' to master a level, that speed-runners will be in there element with this title in finding unique paths and routes to crunch those timings down to a minimum. The other side to replay-ability of levels is in Spinch's set up for boss battles. To defeat a boss, you need to have collected as many Spinch babies from within the world's level, to shoot at the boss. The more babies you have, the faster you will defeat the world boss. If a boss, seems too difficult, then you can re-access the previous levels to rescue more Spinch babies, giving you even more ammunition for the boss battle. One problem we found with the boss battles in Spinch is that their hitboxes seem to be too wide at times. There's a moment where you fight a boss in a thick pink liquid, this boss bounces around the map, and you need to pass it to be able to load-up your attack. The problem is, I found myself taking damage from the boss, from about 1cm from the boss's actual animated body. It wasn't the end of the world, as I would allow more distance between Spinch and the Boss, although it felt cheap and annoying when this first occurred.
As an additional way to tackle these bosses, you can complete two bonus levels in each world, to add a 'Bomb' to your arsenal, again making bosses easier to defeat. However, Bonus levels do become repetitive, as they only appear as a single mini-game, where you are tasked with saving Spinch Cousins from being thrown to their doom, from a high bridge. Whilst you do only have one shot with each bonus level, the repetitive premise of 'Catch the Baby' can become quite tedious, and I would have liked to see more variety in how each bonus task is performed.
Designed by the unique mind of Jesse Jacobs, Spinch brings a bright, colourful world of Psychedelia to life. Jesse Jacobs iswell known for his vibrant and colourful artworks, in which he portrays colour as a living entity. Spinch takes this completely original premise and grows it into a unique artistic experience, which you will only find in this game. Spinch features an impressive variety of vivid characters and enemies, which bring the already beautifully design levels to a whole new level. Each character has their own unique animations and key-frames. They move around the world in a way that compliments the art style in its cartoonish nature, but also looks natural to the environment around it.
Although, upon loading Spinch, there were not many options available to the game, in terms of accessibility, which initially caught us off guard. Although, when you play the game, it becomes quite clear that it is not needed for those with those who would struggle to see in colour. This is because when playing the game, anything that is a threat is animated well enough to identify as one. Which makes it clear that you need to avoid these areas, which are complemented by visual cues that are used to aid, such as spikes, liquids, and waves at the bottom of the levels to warn you that these are out of bounds or danger zones. Although, I do imagine anyone with lower visibility might struggle to play this game on the Switch (undocked) due to how much the games shrinks down, and doesn't readjust its texts. Also, when in this mode on the Switch, this beautiful art style, doesn't translate well when shrinking down to the Switch's screen size. We would recommend playing this game whilst on a big screen to experience it at its best.
The audio in Spinch is a unique journey into the retro soundtrack era, created by the imaginative James Kirkpatrick. The game's soundtrack is made entirely through the use of a modified Gameboy and circuit modified toys. This combination makes for an incredible array of 8/16 bit sounds which have merged to create an immersive audio experience. From the 'bloops' when enemies die, through to the grainy chimes of the soundtrack, everything sounds authentic, yet retro. Best yet, the music that you hear in Spinch will get stuck in your head. Be prepared to be humming some tunes long after you've played the game. Here at 3Bit, we measure a soundtrack by how memorable, and how well fitted to the game it is. In this factor, Spinch ticks all of the boxes. Although, the catchiness of the songs is exaggerated by their short lengths and constant repetition throughout long spells, which unfortunately can come across annoying as your frustration levels raise from the brutal levels in the game. Although this is a tiny issue, that is inflated by the difficulty of the game.
We at 3Bit have been huge fans of the Spinch Soundtrack and enjoyed watching both James Kirkpatrick and Jesse Jacobs collaborate with art and music during the lockdown on Twitch. You can check out all of their collaborations on Youtube by searching Enter Astral Island, or you can check out Thesis Sahib for the original score for Spinch, which is out on Spotify now.
The story to Spinch starts strong, setting a scene in which introduces our hero, giving us a background of the mystical creature, Spinch, and the history of Astral Island. We learn here that Spinch's are sustenance for colour, making them delicious due to their sweet diet of Sugar Cubes. It's after we learn this fact that we see our protagonist, who is caring for their offspring, be interrupted by an evil colourful entity, who rips this wholesome family apart. The story is all laid out in a style that if screenshotted and put together, would form a graphic novel, opting for still frames and animated text, instead of full animation. This style of storytelling is similar to some of Jesse Jacobs graphic novels such as Crawl Space, which makes Spinch feel linked to these, and rich in lore, even though we don't get much more story after this initial introduction. Although this said, we would have like to have seen more story elements between the worlds in Spinch, to understand further the struggle and the colourful villain's motives in eating the Spinch children in particular.
Despite this criticism, Spinch in some ways does manage to carry a story through its unique animations. When at the end of each world, a new face appears to eat the children, it's clear that this journey is not over. Fear of these colourful monsters is portrayed by the Spinch and its offspring, signifying that even in victory, the colours still present a viable threat to Astral Island and Spinch creatures.
Overall Spinch is an excellent addition to the platform adventure genre, which has the potential to be a large part of the speedrunner community. It has excellent animations, followed by a unique art style that captivates the attention of its audience. Spinch comfortably looks at the games that inspired it and improves further upon their formula making for a new experience that feels familiar. Although the game suffers from some minor technical hitches and frustrating sections, this is not enough to make the game unplayable and poses a challenge to platformer players new and old. Releasing at a price point of £11.29 RRP, this feels like an excellent price point for the game that has delivered an incredible experience. If you aren't a fan of games such as Super Meat Boy, Classic Super Mario and other challenging platform games, then this will not be the game for you. However, if you enjoy these types of games, then Spinch will make you feel right at home.