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‘Spinch’ Review: Masocore Meets Psychedelia



Spinch Review

Developer: Queen Bee Games | Publisher: Akupara Games | Genre: Platformer | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch

To stand out as an indie game in today’s crowded marketplace, a game needs a few things: strong art direction, refined mechanics, a unique story, and so on. But there’s also that secret sauce, that undefined thing that makes players want to play “just one more level.” To tell their friends on social media and maybe even the material world that they just have to play this new game. Spinch, a psychedelically colorful 2D platformer by Queen Bee Games, hits all those criteria. It also might just be a speedrunner’s dream.

From Mario to Masocore

Spinch carves out its space in the platforming genre with its own unique touches, but its design philosophy is also part of a long tradition. Ever since Super Mario Bros. defined what a platformer was back in 1985, the form has been reinterpreted endlessly. After a while, speedrunning came into the picture and brutally difficult games like Super Meat Boy redefined what a platformer could look like. This new school of platforming games–of which Spinch proudly identifies with–fit firmly into the ideology of “masocore.”

Giant Bomb defines masocore as “a theoretical video game sub-genre specifically designed to frustrate players by combining complex game mechanics with intense, seemingly impossible difficulty.” Spinch might not be the most difficult platforming game out there, but its difficulty is absolute catnip for speedrunners.

Despite the truly daunting list of achievements, there are multiple ways to play Spinch. A player can go through a level mostly at their own pace, ignoring the timer in the corner if they can stand to do so. The game doesn’t penalize players for taking a long time. In fact, it’s probably best to explore every level to its fullest to find avatar Spinch’s spherical offspring (not to mention his pink and pointed cousin). The more little, smiley offspring found, the more ammo the player has for the boss fights waiting at the end of a set of levels. Finding Spinch’s cousin unlocks bonus levels reminiscent of The Lion King‘s bug toss minigame, and doing well in those unlocks helpful bombs that are used in the very same boss fights.

But this game is built with speedrunners in mind, and casual players will start having a rough time around World 4. The difficulty spike in this pipe-themed world is real, and it forces players to master techniques that they might not have thought much about up until then. The game only gets harder from there, with an ice world that rides the line between fun and frustrating. World 6 is particularly brutal, requiring near-perfect landings and lightning-quick reflexes to dodge around monsters that will send Spinch back to the nearest checkpoint with just one touch. And those checkpoints are further and further apart, especially in the last few worlds. Speedrunners live for this kind of challenge; a more casual player might grow frustrated at the insta-kills.

The Artist’s Touch

Spinch has some of the most strikingly confident art direction of any game released this year. It feels profoundly self-assured from the get-go. The acid-trip visuals are the work of Jesse Jacobs, an accomplished artist and animator. Spinch feels like one of his prints brought to life, and it’s simply stunning to see in action. The player’s avatar smiles beatifically through it all, bobbing in time to James Kirkpatrick‘s incredible soundtrack. Faces made out of rainbows slurp up Spinch’s offspring and gigantic worms smash through walls as Spinch scampers up them as fast as their little legs allow. Spinch Naruto-runs with incredible agility, dodging past bipedal noodle-nosed cyclopian peashooters and bopping them on the head, because this is a platformer, after all. It is surrealism in gaming wrapped up in an enjoyable package.

Spinch stands out. There may only be six worlds, but they are densely packed with their own unique challenges. The achievement list might seem laughably difficult at a glance, but the temptation to go for a no-hit run or even just to set and break speed records is always there. The vibe of this game strikes a balance between technicolor comedy and ominous strangeness. The opening text perfectly encapsulates everything that makes Spinch so weird and great: “Very few people realize that colors are alive.” A sentence so definite, it could only be the truth.

Fans of masocore platformers will find their next obsession in Spinch. More casual players can still find something to enjoy–they just might not make it to the credits. Though the difficulty spike in the latter half is swift, sudden, and serious, Spinch is still satisfying to play and stands tall as a wonderfully unique, aesthetically gorgeous experience.

Cameron Daxon is a video game evangelist and enthusiastic reader. He lives in Los Angeles, California and once nearly collided with Shigeru Miyamoto during E3. His favorite game is Bloodborne, but only when he’s not revisiting Super Mario World. He’s also in the writer’s room for YouTube personality The Completionist and other places on the internet.