Deep within the recesses of the Inkorp factory, the nefarious Le Docteur has begun experimenting on his employees, injecting them with radioactive ink. While such reckless science serves Splasher’s plot, the game itself is the product of meticulous planning. Romaine Claude, the game’s designer, is mischievous, if not violently whimsical, when it comes to the protagonist’s many deaths at the hands of acid geysers, mutant potato sentries, and no-nonsense laser beams. But none of Splasher’s levels are experimental or sloppy. The game, designed from the get-go with momentum-driven speedruns in mind, is precise, drawing largely from Claude’s impeccable work on the last two Rayman games (Origins and Legends), with a healthy dose of the tried-and-true mechanics of Super Mario Sunshine and Portal 2.
The first level swiftly demonstrates each of the game’s physics-defying liquids: a viscous red Stickink and propulsive yellow Bouncink. But it’s not until the sixth and 14th levels (out of a total of 22) that players gain the ability to fire anything other than water. As a result, each level has an entirely different focus: “Wind Walker” and “Storm Wind” both operate on the exterior of the Inkorp paint factory and feature strong winds that change the normal trajectory of each jump. But whereas the first of those levels emphasizes the use of Stickink to slow yourself down, the second one is all about utilizing Bouncink to fling oneself faster and further than before. The way in which players must cope with the various hazards is always changing; it’s one thing to learn how to shoot down the game’s acid-spitting drones from the ground, and another to try to hold them back while suspended from a gooey, red ceiling or while literally bouncing off the yellowed walls.
Much like an actual modern-day factory, then, Splasher abides by an assembly-line philosophy, piling on nuances to each previous level in a way that keeps each one at full capacity while still building an increasingly complex game. This approach also benefits the game’s speed-running, which is all about improving efficiency over the course of many iterations of a level, if not the entire game. Leaping directly to the game’s penultimate and appropriately named “Apocalink Now” level would result in an embarrassment of deaths, as it requires not only a mastery of ridiculous-sounding mechanics like wall-bouncing and ceiling-running, but also the precise targeting of waterwheel engines. Those who reach this level in sequence, however, will find that chaining together all of these techniques comes a bit more, well, fluidly, just as those who begin a second playthrough in Time Attack mode may find entirely new ways to approach those early levels.
Much of Splasher’s high replay value is directly tied to the presence of leaderboards, but there’s a direct correlation between how competitive a player is and the amount of value they’ll extract from this title. Beyond an appreciation for the haphazard, hand-drawn aesthetic that’s apt given the toxic factory’s mutated environments, there’s little to do in the game beyond perfecting its liquid mechanics. Unfortunately, such grace isn’t required from the main campaign. Thanks to generous checkpoints, even the game’s difficulty is tuned more toward endurance gamers aiming for a perfect run than for those seeking out a hardcore platforming challenge.
The various Quarantine Zone sub-levels and Le Docteur’s propensity to flip players off both clearly call Super Meat Boy to mind, but whereas the two games have similarly slight stories, Super Meat Boy has considerably more levels and secrets. (While Splasher does tuck a few of its imprisoned workers slightly out of frame, the necessarily linear design requires almost everything to sit in plain sight.) Quantity isn’t everything, however, and while those with full-body tattoos might disagree, the overall quality of a single four-to-five hour playthrough of Splasher should be more than enough ink.