If you own a smartphone or tablet of any kind, and partake of the odd free mobile game to pass the time on the bus or the ivory throne, you will probably have played a “Marble Shooter” game before, or some variant thereof. The premise is very simple: you’ll be presented with some kind of grid arrangement, into which coloured objects (gems, more often than not) will tumble or slide. Combining three or more by shooting new similar objects at them will see them disappear, increasing your points and upping your chances of beating the timer. It’s very straightforward, and very addictive when done right.
Sparkle, from 10tons, is a new take on a well-used concept. Each level takes the form of a carved channel, and coloured orbs flow into the channel in random patterns, pushed inexorably towards the black hole at the centre. You control an orb launcher that can rotate 360 degrees and is constantly loaded up with orbs to be matched with those in the channel. If too many orbs fall into the black hole, you will use a life, represented by glowing runes carved into the outer ring of the launcher.
Hitting combos or forming particularly long chains will reward you with power-ups that you must shoot to activate. These power-ups may speed up your launcher’s rate of fire, reverse the flow of the orbs, turn you launcher into a freeze ray or nuke everything on the channel – they’re always useful and can make all the difference when the channel is filling up and you’re panic-shooting all over the place. In addition to this, you can unlock amulets that impart a special ability when “worn”, such as increasing your launcher’s speed or the amount of power-ups that spawn.
Between stages, you’ll be taken to a rudimentary world map that offers pointless forks in the road on your way to various landmarks such as a massive obelisk or a windmill. Each is a milestone and rewards you with an extra life or a new amulet, but Sparkle wouldn’t lose much by removing the map altogether and just jumping from level to level minus the fanfare.
The minute-to-minute gameplay is actually quite tense, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. The Vita controls are as you’d find them on a mobile device or a tablet, only you can opt to use the left stick and X to launch your orbs instead of simply tapping on the screen, which is much easier and more accurate.
Graphically, Sparkle on the Vita is very nice-looking. The stages vary impressively, and the colours are vivid and appealing – although outside the stages the artwork on the landmarks is fairly low-rent. The sound effects have a few moments of flare, like the sadistic chuckle when you hit certain power-ups, and the music is excellent throughout.
VERDICT: Sparkle is very much a mobile game, and calling it a puzzle-adventure doesn’t disguise the fact that, in all honesty, it’s a marble shooter with a very basic, almost superfluous attempt at a narrative – which isn’t to say it’s not a good game. Best enjoyed for ten minutes at a time, it looks nice and has all the addictiveness you’d expect from the genre. Sadly, you can find plenty of games that offer almost the exact same challenge for free if you check your phone’s marketplace.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.