Spinch Review: Candy-Coated Chaos

My dad taught me to drive as though “everything’s out to kill me,” the idea being that I can take care of my end of things as well as possible — but the world will still discover new nonsense to throw at me. In Spinch, you play as a little white blob in a world of menacing, psychedelic colors that are all certainly out to kill you. The game tells you exactly what it is in its opening scene: this is a planet where the colorful things are predators, and you and your little babies are being hunted as food. You must jump, dash, walljump, and Naruto run (seriously, your character sticks its arms out back and up to the sky when sprinting with determination) through an increasingly punishing gauntlet of platforms and enemies to survive.

Think of the Children

Spinch is a side-scrolling platformer, with clear inspiration from Super Meat Boy and Celeste. There is even a slight (intentional) framiness to the animations that replicate the feeling of playing a game on an old console. Where Spinch absolutely excels is in its stunning artwork by Canadian graphic novelist Jesse Jacobs, and in its thumping, glorious chiptunes soundtrack that keeps you on your toes throughout its dizzyingly challenging levels.

The game’s geometric designs are like brutalist versions of a child’s doodles. Every object in the background has some kind of face eerily staring back at you. Walls and floors pulse with primary colors, daring you to lose track of your run, get distracted for a split-second and fall victim to one of the level’s many obstacles. Everything is syrupy and candy-coated, belying Spinch’s exacting level design and violent undertones. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the game’s “Challenge” levels, which you can only play once and only help to give you stronger ammunition for the game’s boss fights. You’re tasked with dashing around to catch eggs before they hit the ground, which is tougher than it sounds. Though the parent egg is always smiling, its eggs make an unnerving splat when they hit the ground and dissolve into goo. 

While the game’s first few worlds are relatively gentle, there is a significant difficulty spike about halfway through that will test all but the most hardened platformer veterans. Checkpoints become more sparse and your babies — which are technically optional collectibles but also function as valuable ammunition with which to fight bosses — become more tricky to find. Everything in the game is designed to make your palms sweat, as you try to avoid making that one crucial mistake that will screw up your run and bring you all the way back to the last, distant checkpoint. 

Spinch

There is a lot of repetition in Spinch, and there are some absolutely devilish segments that I nearly rage quit on. For instance, one level that goes on all in on a mechanic where you have to slowly swim through obstacles in goo, and to slow down you have to hold the directional pad or analog stick in one direction against the flow of the goo while also moving to navigate.  Another level near the end of the game has you exploring a maze that is identical in nearly all directions while being chased by a monster that can kill you in one hit.

The game also has some poorly designed spikes with a confusing perspective, making it almost impossible to parse where their edges point. The collision is fussy, and you’ll often find yourself yelling at the screen, swearing you didn’t touch the pointy bit of the thing that just killed you. Many of the paths and enemy patterns in Spinch are impossible to figure out on your first playthrough of a level, so you must die over and over and engage in some rote memorization if you want to progress.

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Spinch

Welcome to Rainbow Hell

In the end, though, the struggle is worth it as the world and sounds propel you through Jesse Jacobs’ bizarre, drippy nightmare world. At times you feel like you’re on the boat ride from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. There are caterpillars that look like they’re made out of Gobstoppers, the spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey smiling at you from the backgrounds of levels, pyramids with giant noses split in two and sneering. The game assaults you with its spectacle, and is by turns exciting and off-putting, but consistently engaging.

The challenging nature of the game means that some of the game’s songs and visuals can come to grate, as you’ll be repeating them over and over again as you try to overcome a particularly nasty sequence. Each time I beat a boss or level bit that gave me trouble, though, I felt an immense rush of pride and relief. More importantly, I was always excited to see what Spinch had in store for me next. It’s a game that you’ll show to a friend and then they’ll go, “What is that?” followed by “I want to play that.” And they won’t give you back the controller until they beat that final boss. Along the way, though, you may hear some frustrated yelling.

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