Your goal in The Splatters is to move liquid-filled blobs around a stage in such a way that they burst and douse all of the small bombs that are littered around the area. The controls get a lot of mileage out of just a couple of buttons, which aids in accessibility. You use the A button to launch your controlled blob in a chosen direction with the analog stick and, if you smack into a wall with enough force (or bump into spikes with any force at all), the blob will splatter. Tapping the A button in midair allows you to fling the Splatter in a different direction, while double-tapping A results in a high-speed slam move that can create a lot of liquid in a concentrated area, though it sacrifices your ability to scatter the splatter a little more widely.
The Splatters have a nice gel-like feeling of fluidity to them, and each level is designed with smooth, curved areas that Splatters can slide on, a trait that comes in handy when you can properly use them. It feels great to slide along loops and curves, change direction in midair to dive-bomb onto a different ramp, and then be launched into the perfect place for your Splatter's gooey end. The way in which the characters move to reach their targets helps The Splatters stand out in its genre.
The coolest and frequently most useful ability is the flip. When the flip is first introduced, it seems like a rewind button, but in reality it allows you to reverse the momentum of moving objects on the map. So, if your Splatter is sliding along a curve, for example, you can flip the direction back and forth in order to build up speed, allowing it to launch in a particular direction with much greater force. Alternatively, you can move midair bombs back and forth to catch them in a falling puddle of goop. Mastering the flip skill is essential to success in later levels.
Most of these skills are also qualified as stunts, which you must pull off continually to build up a combo and achieve higher scores. The true depth and flexibility of these skills is showcased on the leaderboards. Videos of the highest scoring runs are viewable at the push of a button, and the most talented players are are already pulling off impressive combos – it's a real joy to watch someone whip around a map with purpose and fluidity. These videos also display the recorded player's button inputs, which can help you study their performance and try to learn from it.
But as great as it is when things go right, the physics in The Splatters can be frustrating when things repeatedly go wrong. It's spectacular to blow up a bunch of bombs at once, but it's exasperating when one lone bomb gets knocked away from the pack, which can be the sole reason for failing a level. Similarly, splattering an area full of bombs but missing one or two by a few pixels can be incredibly upsetting. While moving, if you catch an edge of the geometry just right with enough force you'll splatter prematurely, which is always a disappointment to everyone involved [yow - Ed.].
Some of these setbacks are slaves to physics, something you don't have any real control over. A tried and proven solution may not work every time because it's nearly impossible to hit the same exact spots consistently. Rather than being encouraged to rethink strategies every time you fail, you might find yourself repeatedly restarting levels under the assumption that a proven method is bound to work again eventually. There is also a general lack of variety to the gameplay once all the basics are mastered, so it can get tiring in large doses. The fact that you will see some of the same level designs repeated, albeit with different bomb and Splatter layouts, doesn't help either.
Stages are split into three different modes: Become a Talent, a short, simple mode that mostly serves as a tutorial; Combo Nation, which is a bit faster paced and is all about moving quickly to rack up combos; and Master Shot, a much more puzzle-like mode focused on precision, forcing you to perform specific sets of tricks in addition to eliminating bombs. Each level has three stars that can be earned by performing well, so perfectionists will have something to strive toward.
The Splatters has some neat concepts for a physics puzzler. Doing tricks and nailing tough shots can be rewarding, and the movement and sliding of the Splatters helps it feel more unique than the multitude of Angry Birds clones out there. The simplicity of the mechanics, however, doesn't always translate to addictive gameplay, and you may soon grow tired of performing the same actions over and over again, especially when it feels that success is owed more to luck than skill. I never found myself thinking about potential puzzle solutions when the console was off. As sticky as the Splatters are, they don't seem to stick in your mind, and it's often more exciting to watch a skilled player run through a level than it is to struggle with it yourself.
This review is based on the final release of The Splatters for Xbox Live Arcade, provided by Microsoft.
Britton Peele is a freelance writer from some boondocks outside Dallas, Texas. When not writing game reviews and features for publications like GameSpot, GamesRadar and The Dallas Morning News, he spends time looking for a doorway to Narnia and the remains of Oceanic Flight 815. You can follow him on Twitter at @BrittonPeele.
Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.