The Splatters might well not exist if Angry Birds hadn't come along first and proven that there was a market for scowling projectiles. Here, the flying fowl are replaced with globs of suicidal slime, and the objects being destroyed are bomb clusters instead of nefarious oinkers, but the general concept--launch something carefully and watch it do as much damage as possible until it loses all inertia--remains intact.
Levels in The Splatters take place on a single screen. There's not a lot to think about when you first start your adventure because only one of three modes of play is available. Become a Talent provides you with 12 levels, along with a few tutorial areas. You learn the basics, and as you advance, you gain new abilities. The blobs can learn how to dive-bomb a target, and eventually you can press the shoulder buttons to shift gravity and rewind time. There are also finer points to master, such as the ability to grind along railings and change direction in the air, but overall there's not a lot of variety when it comes to your available skills. The game's complexity comes instead from the challenging arenas that you must clear.
Once the early levels are out of the way, you unlock the Combo Nation mode, which consists of 21 demanding arenas, as well as the Master Shots mode, which offers another 32 stages. Since most arenas feature several rounds that must be cleared (with welcome checkpoints along the way), you might play 8 to 10 hours just to unlock every stage. Then there are the star rankings to consider; you're awarded one to three stars based on your performance in each stage, and there are achievements to unlock if you manage perfection.
By the time you are permitted to tackle the Combo Nation mode, you should feel confident in your ability to launch slime and wreak havoc within a given arena, but you might not yet be able to string together amazing combos. That changes with practice. Once you launch a ball of slime, it sails rapidly through the air, and you can press and hold the appropriate button to settle on a target (though you don't have long to make a decision). When the blob hits an object, either because that was your plan all along or because you lost control and accidentally grazed a spike, you have a moment during which you must launch another goopy hero or abandon your efforts to build an amazing combo. Your combo grows as you hastily clear the various rounds without making any major mistakes, and your score when you detonate the final orb multiplies exponentially if you manage to maintain a combo through to the end.
The Master Shots mode takes a different approach. You're presented with arenas that can be cleared relatively easily (particularly at first), but clouds appear in the backdrop and provide specific directions that you must follow if you want to receive credit for successful completion. For instance, in one stage you might have to purposefully slam into spikes so that your goop rains down on a field of bombs. Elsewhere, you may need to slide along a looping rail that normally you wouldn't even care to touch. Such directives add a strong puzzle element to what is already a complex, physics-based affair.
Even if you're not concerned with your rating within the various levels, there's good reason to try for a high score: you can brag to the world. Your performance is tracked as you play, right down to every mistake in a string of failed attempts. You can upload your favorite videos for bragging rights, which could easily provide incentive to replay a tricky stage a number of times just so that you can show off your skills to anyone who might care to download and view the performance. It's a nice touch that adds a strong competitive element to a single-player game.
Unfortunately, The Splatters doesn't fare well during extended play. It's fun to complete a few stages at a time, but the minor issues that crop up periodically morph into disasters if you don't take breaks along the way. The difference between a successfully cleared stage and a slimy disaster can come down to a couple of pixels on one of 10 or 12 launches, so it's frustrating that there's no option to produce an indicator that lets you anticipate your initial trajectory.
Slime doesn't always break apart predictably, either, so you might attempt to employ the exact same strategy on three subsequent attempts and get a different result each time. In the heat of the moment, when you're building combos and sending balls of slime flying through dangerous territory while fumbling with the shoulder buttons so that you can more thoroughly bathe bomb orbs in goop, you may find yourself accidentally initiating additional launches before you intended to, perhaps with disastrous results. It's (probably) your fault when that happens, but sometimes it won't feel like it. There are few more frustrating moments in gaming than when you run out of blobs to launch and realize that you missed clearing a round by a single drip's worth of gunk.
The game at least does do its part to keep your spirits high, even in the face of crushing defeat. Balls of slime aren't quite as distinct as other game characters, but they definitely have personality. The areas that they paint with color are also rendered beautifully and sometimes whimsically, like one that finds you detonating bombs positioned near walls fashioned from oversized fruit. Funky but repetitive music plays the whole time, unless you disable it, and the sound of slime sloshing against a clean surface is every bit as beautiful the 50th time as it is the first. The developers were also smart enough to implement a color-blind mode that swaps colors if you like, a critical feature for a game like this where it's so important to quickly differentiate between colors so that you can match a given ball of gunk to the similarly toned pile of bomb orbs it can eliminate.
The Splatters may not offer substantial innovation, but it does provide a challenging and engaging new take on the classic formula that made Angry Birds such a massive success. If you can't download Rovio's game, or if you're just hungry for new experiences of a similar nature, this is a good place to start.