10tons may only be a small company, but they’re certainly singling themselves out as an outfit to watch. The off-the-wall King Oddball is a very strange yet highly-addictive physics puzzler, and Match-3 marble-shooter Sparkle is a unique take on a well-used template. Both games work excellently on the PS Vita or a mobile device, but would be less impressive if carried over to the PlayStation 4: their simplistic nature and minimalist design is at odds with the high-tech wizardry under the PS4’s hood. They simply aren’t big enough to fill a big screen, a fact proved by last month’s King Oddball home console port.
Sparkle 2 is the latest game from 10tons, and a direct sequel to the aforementioned Marble Shooter. Although it’s available on both PS Vita and PS4, it seems a little bit dwarfed on the bigger console, and sort of pointless unless you have no other option and really, really want to play it.
Following the path first carved out by its predecessor, Sparkle 2 sees you in charge of an Orb Launcher device, with which you fire a coloured orb at a snake-like procession of coloured orbs as they travel a simple grid, in the hope of matching three or more so they disappear before they reach a black hole at the end of the line and trigger a Game Over.
To a greater extent than Sparkle, the sequel follows a storyline involving a quest through a barren land. Although there are no characters or animated events, a narrator pops up as you reach certain areas to exposit the flimsy plot and offer bare bones justification for playing the next level. The ironic thing is that Sparkle 2 is so playable that the pointless plot and its rudimentary world map are superfluous.
The gameplay is wonderfully straightforward as you fire off orb after orb into the line by tapping the screen where you want them to go. The steadily increasing difficulty (enhanced by more colours and a faster line) is offset by a great selection of buffs unlocked after a certain number of stages. These include a faster launcher or various powered shots that can be used to decimate huge sections of the line.
Power-ups appear after a certain amount of consecutive clearances and include explosive orbs, the ability to reverse the flow of the line or a buff that freezes everything for a moment. During later stages when there are two or more lines to manage at once with more orbs sliding in constantly, you will need all the help you can get. If you do get to the point where the main game is pushing you and you need a change, an added Survival mode stretches the legs of a game already offering around 300 levels. Incidentally, the inclusion of a colour-blind mode, where all the orbs have a visible motif, is a great touch.
The graphics are stark and pretty in places, as the stages have a gritty, fantastical look that adds to the quest-oriented story, but it’s the music that stands out. There’s plenty of it in Sparkle 2, and every piece is bursting with personality – the music is the perfect accompaniment to the often frantic action.
VERDICT: While its presence on PS4 is questionable (aside the rather excellent touchpad application), Sparkle 2 joins the likes of Surge Deluxe and King Oddball to further swell the Vita’s impressive line-up of indie puzzlers. Immensely playable and rarely frustrating, Sparkle 2 is a simple yet effective time waster that offers plenty of hours of fun before it inevitably starts to feel a bit repetitious.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.