Friday, September 29, 2017

Review: Sparkle 2


To this point the Switch has had some “casual games” but they’ve pretty well been puzzle games of some sort. While I think most people think of it as more of a hardcore gaming platform, that doesn’t mean that some room can’t be made for more casual fare, especially when it is well-executed. Enter Sparkle 2, a marble shooter from the folks at 10 Tons. Though their bread and butter is almost entirely action-heavy twin-stick shooters this deviation from their norm, the anomaly in their line-up, still shows a great deal of care. If you’re looking for something to pull out and play for a few satisfying minutes, it is an excellent choice.

If you’re unfamiliar with marble shooters the likes of the classic PopCap game Zuma Deluxe there isn’t too much to know. Your goal is to prevent a line of different-colored balls from making their way to one or more holes that are somewhere near your ball thrower. You do this primarily by shooting a ball that will get inserted into the line and making matches of 3 or more balls of the same color in a row. If you’re able to do this balls of that color will disappear and the line will continue forward without them. Where the skill in this genre comes into play is when you’re able to get a chain reaction going. As each group is removed if the balls on either side of the group are the same color they’ll be attracted together. If the resultant group has 3 or more of the same color they’ll disappear as well and so on. This is the base that all games in the genre are built on.

What Sparkle 2 brings to the table is diversity in the stages, with some having 3 tracks even, a solid set of power-ups you can get from matches during the game, and in the form of standing enhancements you’ll unlock and can choose to enhance your ball thrower. The stage diversity can seem like a small thing but a well-planned level can be very challenging even if you’re an experienced player. Multiple tracks that block one another require an element of planning and strategy to either prevent yourself from being blocked or to create an opening for yourself from a match that you can then shoot a ball through to get a match on the line you normally can’t get to. Sparkle 2 does a great job of not only having many stages but of providing a lot of varying looks to prevent you from getting comfortable as you get further along. The power-ups you can get are quite abundant overall if you’re good at getting chained matches and I’ve found that sometimes you really need them to dig yourself out of a tight situation. There’s a degree of randomness to what you get so from game to game it can vary quite a bit but that also can make it more exciting, certainly. Finally, over the course of the main campaign you’ll slowly unlock enhancements for your thrower that you’ll be able to choose among as permanent powers. These range from making your balls fly faster to making the game a little easier to having specific power-ups show up in place of a ball periodically. This is a nice addition and helps you find a combination that may better suit your style or even compensate for a weakness you may have.

Presentation in the game, for it being overall a pretty simple genre visually, is polished and generally attractive. While people could quibble over the style and theme the visuals are colorful and attractive on the whole. In particular I actually love the game’s whimsical music that is very reminiscent of Danny Elfman tracks without directly copying any of them specifically. The playful themes and the use of voice as an instrument really work well with the levels and the fanfare to open each level may be a bit overdramatic but I still appreciate its effort to get you into the game.


When it comes to control there’s good news and bad news. Playing in docked mode and using the JoyCon to control things is workable but aiming at a distance in particular can be tricky and this is a game in real need of precision. This isn’t a fault of the game in its control implementation so much as the nature of the genre and people usually playing it with either a mouse or on a touchscreen. The way the game is obviously meant to be played is in handheld mode with the touchscreen as this is extremely effective, almost to the point I felt like I was cheating versus playing it with a mouse on PC. Only needing to use a button to switch which ball you have loaded shooting your ball is as easy as touching where you want it to go. You’ll still need to consider whether anything is in the way or whether the ball will travel to that spot fast enough but it is a lightning-fast way to make your matches most definitely.

All in all while there’s nothing changing the fact that this is “just a casual game” there’s quite a lot of content to be played if you are a fan of the genre. Over the course of the main story campaign you’ll unlock new power-ups but you’ll also unlock 3 additional modes that provide more replay opportunities. They all will be variations on the same ideas, with only minor tweaks to the formula but they will throw challenges at you in slightly different ways and the unlocking of new levels at least provides you with continued challenges even after the pretty lengthy main campaign is completed. As a big fan of many classic PopCap casual games, and Zuma Deluxe in particular, I’d say that among its descendents Sparkle 2 is the most impressive and enjoyable by a fair degree. If you’re in search of something a little lighter than can be enjoyed in quick sessions between tasks it in an excellent choice!


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Touchscreen play is phenomenally accurate and quick
  • Perfect for quick sessions of pick up and put down play
  • An abundance of modes extend your excuses to keep playing if you enjoy the gameplay style


Cons:
  • Nothing is changing what this is, a casual game meant mostly for light play
  • Some may not appreciate the fantasy art direction or music
  • If you were planning on playing it primarily in docked mode there may be some challenges with aiming, though you can get used to it


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