Wikipedia defines a computer game as software that “involves interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device.” Although that sounds cold and technical, if you apply it to the new casual offering, Spring Up!, then Frozax’s release would certainly qualify as a computer game. Unfortunately, despite a sincere effort on the part of the developers, it’s about as fun to play as reading a dictionary.
The recipe for Spring Up! includes a heaping cup of PopCap’s Peggle. Similar to that game, you use a cannon at the top of your screen to fire colored balls at an arrangement of colored objects below. When you fire a green ball, for example, all of the green balls and bricks you hit will dislodge and fall toward the bottom of the screen. There, you’ll find a basket in which you can snag anything that comes tumbling down. Similar to a Breakout paddle, you move the basket left and right with your mouse.
When you eliminate an object, you score points. In addition, if you repeatedly shoot a ball and hit at least one object of the same color, a points multiplier increases. The multiplier goes as high as X5, but if you fail to hit something on even one shot, it goes back to X1. The points you earn for hitting objects increase with each object, so if you want to chalk up a really high score, max out the multiplier by hitting just one or two objects at a time and then go for big combos once you’re at your limit.
Falling objects can include one of four powerups based on the colors of the objects scattered across the screen. Green powerups give you 500 points, blue powerups increase the size of your basket, red powerups decrease the size of your basket and yellow powerups increase the points multiplier one level.
All of this talk about points is important because tallying a high score is the only motivation you’ll have while playing. Spring Up! comes with two modes — Adventure and Quick Play — but the Adventure Mode is just a screen in which you use your points to purchase the components of a garden. Don’t get too excited about this customization feature, though, because it involves nothing more than clicking on dollar bill icons. The static two-dimensional screen is the flimsiest excuse for an “Adventure” mode I recall seeing in a casual game.
A little extra incentive in the form of a story wouldn’t have hurt since there’s not much in Spring Up! pulling you from one level to the next. Even getting through a single stage can be a drab exercise in aiming and shooting. To beat a level, all you have to do is clear the screen, which isn’t hard because there’s no time limit and you’re given an unlimited number of balls. If an object happens to be in a difficult-to-reach spot, that’s not a problem because your cannon has an automatic aiming device that displays the arc along which the ball will travel if it doesn’t hit any objects, Miniscule adjustments are all that’s needed to eventually ricochet a ball just right.
Making matters worse, the level design in Spring Up! can only be described as uninspired. Although the developers attempted to mix up the action throughout the game’s 72 stages by introducing interactive elements such as fans, pinball bumpers and teleporters, the levels just feel like random arrangements, whether the objects are stationary (as on some stages) or traveling along a predefined path (as on others). No skill or strategy other than patience is required to beat any of the levels.
Just as damning as the lack of motivation are the visuals. Now, before you consider leaving me a comment about how gameplay is more important than graphics, and that you don’t need superior visuals if you have good gameplay, know that I agree with you. But other than a few random background objects (such as a bird’s nest and a twig), there’s not much in Spring Up! to look at. The backgrounds look like Windows desktop wallpaper tiles and the other objects on the screen are crudely drawn and two-dimensional. Spring Up’s entire visual presentation screams “the Nineties” and “programmer art.”
Even Spring Up!‘s one redeeming quality — bouncy physics that resemble those in Nurium’s BreakQuest — can’t save it. They’re not used in any creative way, like in the game that inspired them, and they’re buggy. Quite often, falling objects get hung up somewhere and disappear instead of dropping to the bottom of the screen. This costs points.
Spring Up! earns 1.5 stars because some players will enjoy its simplicity and lack of pressure. Everyone else, however, should pass it by, because unexciting gameplay and bland visuals aren’t the only problems in a casual offering in serious need of an overhaul.