Shine bright like a diamond?
As the influx of indie developers continues, the list of mobile -to-Vita ports has also seen an incline. Sparkle was released over two and a half years ago originally on iOS, and was later ported to Android. As with these mobile ports the question is always threefold; whether the game is any good, whether it’s been ported well and finally the price (or if you prefer value, given the raw deal Vita gamers have often had to suffer with regard to inflated prices on mobile ports). I’m not one to really look at pricing that closely but with titles such as Burn The Rope it’s often something that’s impossible to ignore.
Sparkle is a match three puzzler in which you have an orb slinger in the centre of the screen and you are tasked with stopping orbs reaching a hole in the ground as they follow a predetermined path. Those of you who have played Zuma and to a slightly lesser extenT Luxor will know exactly what to expect. Sparkle doesn’t really do that much different from these titles but since the general concept is an addictive one in many ways it doesn’t really need to. Your orb slinger can fire orbs in any direction but it cannot move. If you match three orbs they simply disappear, but if the remaining orbs either side match the orbs will move to connect and you are able to create a combo which often causes power-ups to drop. Power ups are helpful and come in several different forms, some of which are more useful than others. Some power-ups will cause the movement of the orb string to slow or reverse, others will blow up a section of orbs or shoot through them whereas some power ups will send out fireflies to change several orb colours in your favour, or spit fire around you destroying orbs randomly. Sparkle being a touch screen game simply requires players to tap where they want to fire and it does so in a precise and accurate manner. You can use the analog stick to aim and X to fire but this rapidly becomes pointless as it’s so much more cumbersome than the instantaneous touch controls.
In another attempt to differ from other similar titles, Sparkle tries (and fails) to tell you a story via the main Quest mode. Basically an evil force has fallen on Crowberry Woods and the only way you can restore peace is by travelling from level to level in order to obtain six different runes that must be collected to dispel the evil orbs that are disrupting the area. The story (if you can call it that) is more of an excuse to allow branching paths as you journey through the game and every five or so levels the path forks, though all must eventually be completed to finish the game. All of the levels in Sparkle contain a single orb track except for the rune levels which contain two or even three, and while progression is initially easy and fairly boring, as you get further into the game the difficulty ramps up to make Sparkle feel more like a fight for survival rather than a gentle puzzler. It’s a shame the difficulty level isn’t more balanced as Sparkle has pacing issues throughout resulting in an often unbalanced difficulty. Towards the end of the game there are level spikes that sometimes feel nearly impossible to overcome without absolutely perfect reflexes and a lot of luck, and this is a shame as it sucks some of the fun away from this fairly polished title.
To further sway things in your favour, from time to time you will receive amulets which can be worn to assist your progress. Some amulets are more useful than others, and when the difficulty does peak a surprising amount of thought is needed as to which amulet will help the most. Amulets get more powerful as you progress too; from the initial “Amulet of Swift” that simply allows you to shoot twice as fast (no sexual pun intended), to the “Amulet of Ease” which, as the name suggests makes the level you are stuck on easier to complete every time you fail it, or my personal favourite the “Amulet of Small” which shrinks the orbs, making them harder to hit but causing them to move more slowly (the speed they move towards the end becomes slightly insane). You start the game with six lives and when these are gone you are able to restart, but are pushed back to the previous fork in the path. As you pop bubbles you light up a series of symbols surrounding you and once these are full no more orbs appear and you are able to finally finish the level and move on. Graphically Sparkle is colourful yet plain. The fact that this is a port of an over two year old game is fairly obvious as despite upscaling to the Vita’s resolution with nicely rounded and coloured orbs, the backgrounds look like they were taken from those awful angular backgrounds that were around when Windows 95 was popular. They’re detailed enough but it’s clear that the game just looks bland due to the lack of horsepower older phones had, and it would have been nice to have something a little more interesting to look at though a colourblind mode is handily included which shows symbols to differentiate the differently coloured orbs. The musical score however is brilliant and provides a neat orchestral background that makes things feel more dramatic than the graphics convey. There are loads of levels to play (though many layouts repeat over and over by simply changed the background) and outside of the main Quest mode there is also Challenge mode in which you try to beat each level as quickly as possible, and a Survival which requires you to (obviously) keep going as long as you can across a variety of levels with each amulet.
The trophy set in Sparkle is very straight forward and only requires three playthroughs of the Quest mode on increasing difficulties to obtain. It’s a shame the trophies aren’t more inventive and that they don’t stretch to the other game modes as online leaderboards are also lacking, meaning Challenge and Survival are obsolete unless you are a completionist or want to better your own score. However, despite this and the repetitive nature of Sparkle I still enjoyed it enough to play to the end. It may be dated by today’s standards but this type of puzzle game is one that appears timeless and has never really lost popularity. If you’re looking for this style of game then this is your only option on the Vita and while it’s not a bad one the £3.99 price is pretty steep given Sparkle’s age and the fact that it’s double the price of the mobile version. Sparkle has also since had a sequel in the mobile market and it’s a wonder why the sequel wasn’t picked instead of this, though I guess it’s conceivable that 10tons may release Sparkle 2 further down the line. There is a trial of Sparkle available so if you’re undecided you can try for free before purchasing the full game, so if you like puzzle games there’s little excuse not to have a go.