One of the cooler surprises at EA's Naughty or Nice event was Spare Parts, the upcoming Xbox Live Arcade and PSN release developed by the company's Guildford-based bright light Studios (Create, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) and set for launch later this year. The download-only single or two-player co-op action/platformer stars a pair of super likable robots (Chip and Mar-T) that crash land on a faraway planet and need to locate 100 ship parts scattered around the planet in order to escape. They both can find and use a number of nifty gadgets throughout the adventure to defeat alien enemies, locate hidden items and a pull off number of other special abilities. I spent a nice long time with a build of the game and came away really impressed at how much fun the game is and how well the co-op feature is coming together.
While the game is indeed quite family-friendly and recalls the recent years of classic 3D mascot franchises, there's enough appeal here for those "core" gamers who want something a bit more whimsical yet still challenging. There's a nice Metal Arms meets Ratchet & Clank vibe going on thanks to the sharp, colorful graphics, huge levels, upgradable gear, plenty of collectibles to track down and a wide assortment of cute (but dangerous) aliens to squash. While you can play through and complete a good chunk of the game solo right to the ending, there are a number of secret or blocked off areas in the game world that can only be reached via drop in/drop out co-op play.
The nice thing here is you can play that co-op offline or online, something that should help the game do well for those that need a helping hand and don't have anyone else around to play with. One example of the co-op in action would be getting past those pesky force fields that block off pathways to hidden goodies. In single player, you'd have to bypass these areas and continue on your merry way. In co-op, one player can run to a nearby switch and press a button or use a special power to activate it so the other player can rush in, nab the goods and hoof it back to help fight off the aliens that spawned. Other secret areas require magnetic boots, power punches, jet boots that let you fly for brief periods or other upgrades. You don't start the game with all that funky gear, which means you'll be doing a bit of backtracking to solve some puzzles once you acquire the proper upgrades.
Combat is fun and fluid with punches, kicks and combo moves all doled out with quick button presses. Those big-headed alien enemies, bugs and bosses can dish out the pain, but the game doesn't penalize you for dying by shooting you over to a faraway checkpoint or forcing a restart. In co-op, you can pull off a number of fun moves that require precise timing for success. Tapping out a high-five with your partner will share (or restore) health and you can even wail away on the other player just for fun. Additionally, there are a number of hidden robots to track down and activating them will add them to your roster as a new character skin. These new 'bots will play the exact same way as Chip or Mar-T, but the visual variety of your new found metal friends should add a bit to the game's replay value.
My only gripe about the game is it's not a retail release. This exactly the type of game that you'd see hitting store shelves with a bit of well-received press fanfare in previews that would translate well to solid physical sales and top shelf review scores. With so many games fighting for hard drive space over XBLA and PSN, my fear is that Spare Parts might get lost in the crunch of other titles thanks to it's low price point and kid appeal. Granted, if folks like me do our jobs, the game will succeed no matter the deliver format. Still, I'd LOVE to see bright lights and EA put together a disc version perhaps even a demo on one of their disc-based games (hint, hint) so that a wider audience (including those that don't have access to high speed connections) can try out what's turning out to to be one of this years bigger surprises.
We'll have more on Spare Parts shortly - stay tuned...