Cartoons get away with a lot of stuff. When you take a terrible, horrific subject and dress it up in adorability, you’d be surprised how many things slip beneath our radars. Tom and Jerry has mayhem that’s actually on Itchy and Scratchy levels, Rugrats had some messed up episode about cutting, and the full level of psychological damage that happens in Fairly Odd Parents to most of the characters would make Freud spring out of the grave in excitement. The fact is, being able to take otherwise M rated situations and dress them up in colors and round design is what saves plots that could otherwise be deemed “monstrous.”
Splasher is one such plot. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll address the game as a game in a moment, and it’s a fine time, but the plot is frigging crazy. Basically you’re a custodial grunt at some ink factory where the primary source of product comes from these amorphous blobs that get squashed into liquid. One day you’re merrily mopping up when you notice a lab door isn’t closed all the way. Turns out that the scientists working there are randomly taking the custodians (read: YOU) and injecting them with some kind of chemical that turns them into the blobby sources of your company’s main product. It’s straight up Soylent Green levels of revelation and, bonus, you get seen and now the lab is on lockdown to try and stop you before you escape. The only way out is through, which means running, jumping and catapulting through multiple lab areas on your way to freedom, doing your best to rescue your coworkers along the way before they also become fodder.
Seriously, tell me that isn’t screwed up. I’m just impressed that it got through the censors without something being removed. I know the new Nintendo is getting all gritty and serious, what with This is the Police and Butcher helping to show that Ninty is pro-mature approach, but Jesus, this game is rated 7+ in the UK. I guess the lack of blood, dismemberment or existential horror keeps it safe for the majority.
Anyways, Splasher is a pretty dope speed platform game that uses water and chemicals as their primary mechanics. Your little dude is at the mercy of certain inks creating different surface reactions: being able to stick to walls and ceilings, for example, or otherwise bouncing around like a Super Ball. You quickly get your own unlimited water pack, which allows you to both wash off ink as you see fit and also attack monsters that would try and slow you down. Wait, are these monsters also coworkers who’ve now been transformed? I don’t think I can keep considering it. The giant mecha-bulls are definitely just robots, but they also don’t seem to mind being blasted with water. They only go down if you can trick them into falling into vats or giant buzz saws.
Besides survival, you do need to save seven of your fellow grunts per level, all of whom are usually in perilous situations that are either out of reach or possibly even hidden. I was torn by this, because I really enjoyed the completionist aspect in making sure I got every grunt, including the special one at the end who can only get free if you have a minimum amount of gold ink (which you get from blasting enemies and washing off gold walls). The margin for error with the gold grunt was incredibly small, with me often only having single digits extra: this means the devs want you to be incredibly thorough in order to fully “finish” whatever stage you’re on.
But, on the other hand, Splasher very clearly wants people to come and enjoy their game in a speedster setting. Your character moves in a fast and shallow way, clearly tuned to the idea of being reactionary for the ultimate in quickness. There are definitely moments where my little splash dude started whipping across the room, either due to the right ink or simply because I got into a groove, and that can be exciting and a little anxious the first time it happens. As you can imagine, rescuing the other guys is mostly impossible when you’re going for directness and celerity. So it becomes a matter of replaying levels once or even twice depending on your own interest: get everyone, go back, and try to focus on the fastest time. Splasher even expects as much with the different modes that are baked into the game from the very beginning, with the first variation dubbed the “selfish speed run.” They don’t even put the grunts in the room if you’re trying the selfish variation, which I appreciate: the anxiety of leaving them behind intentionally would have been awful.
The great part is, I think Splasher handles itself with extreme tact and execution. Even though you get hit over the head with the “speed run” fixation, it’s not unreasonable or even a hard concept to get into with the game. Having played some of the classics like Super Meat Boy, I think Splasher is significantly less difficult and punishing at first, but maintains an ever growing edge of skill that doesn’t crest into unfair. You know, from the start, what your end goal looks like (154 grunts, seven per room) and there isn’t an apparent penalty for number of deaths, so work out the kinks and get your ideal route burned into your mind. The whole experience is driven by a pretty grand soundtrack that’s both funky and ambient: you can bob your head and groove but you won’t be distracted and need to sing along.
Replay value is always important, and Splasher has grand potential for being a title that people run again and again, both for interest and also to get things right. Nintendo Switch owners are probably a bit excited for other indie classics to be released, but it can be a bit stale for the same games from several years ago to finally make their way into Nintendo’s hands. Therefore, having something that’s still quite new, even if it’s not exclusive, is refreshing and satisfying. I still can’t get my head around the morbid backdrop of the game, but, all in all, I can still rock out to Splasher and sleep well at night, dreaming of bounding along at inky velocity.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.