Perhaps "Spare Parts" wasn't the best name for EA Bright Light's newest downloadable platformer. The name all too often highlights the clunky way this online and offline cooperative journey borrows liberally from Ratchet & Clank and misuses the considerable voice talents of Simon Pegg, resulting in a fairly brief experience that feebly parrots aspects of much better 3D platformers. That's not to say that Spare Parts lacks charm, but it quickly crumbles under the weight of a lackluster cooperative mode, missed opportunities for humor, and questionable and imprecise controls. Indeed, "spare parts" implies that something is in dire need of repair, and it's regrettable that this otherwise promising adventure was released without making sure that all of its own pieces fit perfectly in place.
In truth, Spare Parts takes its name from the hundreds of ship components and tokens littered across an alien world filled with jungles, mountains, and ancient temples. A pair of potentially lovable automatons named Mar-T and Chip--think WALL-E after a tune-up and long sessions at the robo gym--must use these parts to repair a damaged spaceship (controlled by an affable AI voiced by Simon Pegg). But their efforts are constantly thwarted by the headstrong Lord Krung and his minions. It's enough for a promising start. Mar-T and Chip have a few endearing animations, the minions ooze with diabolical cuteness, and the world is unfailingly colorful and upbeat. Yet the momentum quickly dies. The dry script keeps Pegg from having too much fun with his lines; instead, he often sounds like he's channeling Stephen Fry's narrative performance in Little Big Planet. Mar-T and Chip rarely interact with each other in any memorable way, and they end up having all the personality of a flashy cell phone.
Mar-T and Chip start their journey with some basic attacks that you never really need to improve on, and they scoop up several upgradable gadgets to help them with the many puzzles sprinkled throughout the world. Need to climb a metallic wall or activate a floor panel? Use the metallic boots. Need to smash or move heavy objects? Equip that power arm. Elsewhere, a nanite glove lets our heroes interface with several control panels, and a pair of rocket boots lets them coast over small gaps or set things on fire. These puzzles often appear when you haven't yet received the item required to interact with them, so you can get some replay value out of hunting down missed items. The problem is that it's often impossible to figure out which of these tools you need to use next without resorting to help. That's where the x-scanner comes in, which is a device that highlights an interactive object with a symbol signifying the item you should use on it.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always solve your problems. At worst, it complicates them. At times, the x-scanner shows that you need to move a rock with the power arm, for example, but it may take many frustrating seconds of maneuvering before you get Mar-T or Chip into the inch of space needed to interact with the object. A handful of objects seem like you can't move them until you use the x-scanners on them (even if the needed interaction is patently obvious), and it's unclear if this is a bug or intentional design. This imprecision extends to the platforming itself. The fixed camera makes jumping an ordeal, particularly when you must jump toward or away from the camera, and certain moves (like the familiar double jump and smash combo) often appear to miss their mark. And there's never any real need to use one of the game's myriad offensive combos because simple button mashing will usually get you through most encounters.
Spare Parts is a cooperative game in theory, but the opportunities to work with fellow robots are few and always unnecessary save for achievements. At best, these require Mar-T and Chip to stand on opposite platforms to activate them, but even this simple action proves a challenge, thanks to the horrible fixed camera in cooperative mode. At times, the camera focuses exclusively on your partner while you run the risk of falling off a cliff out of sight; at others, the lack of any kind of split-screen makes gathering all the items and tokens in a level more difficult than necessary. The drop-in/drop-out feature is welcome, but Spare Parts never achieves the cooperative thrills and challenges of superior titles like Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Instead, you end up fighting for control of the camera and snoozing through levels that never deviate far from the linear smash-and-collect formula established when you first drop down to a surface. Cooperative play does provide some perks, such as a health boost when both robots double jump at the same time, but Spare Parts never becomes challenging enough to make such moves a necessity.
Still, the boss battles offer a welcome change of pace, though the initial excitement of learning the proper line of attack dwindles once you realize that victory usually requires repeating the same step over and over. One of the simplest boss fights takes ages to complete but only because you must repeat the key step about six times while fighting off hordes of lesser foes. Such lengthy encounters might be forgiven with a limited number of lives or high penalties for failure, but Spare Parts provides Mar-T and Chip with infinite lives, and death only results in a negligible loss of coins and an immediate respawn. Thus, these challenges exchange fun for tedium.
On a technical level, Spare Parts runs fine on both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 with few differences between the two, although certain textures are slightly crisper on the Xbox 360. (We did, however, experience two lockups on the second boss while playing on the Xbox 360.) But spare yourself the disappointment of playing this underwhelming platformer. As mentioned above, Spare Parts borrows heavily from the Ratchet & Clank series, but the greater focus on melee combat somehow renders Spare Parts infinitely less satisfying. Chip and Mar-T's adventure has little of the lightning-laced action that defines its inspiration and certainly none of its personality. It's a shame because the game's numerous promising elements end up seeming like discarded spare parts from a better whole.