It is a difficult thing to create a unique spin on a much-loved classic puzzle game to make it feel fresh and rejuvenated. It is even more difficult to create a trilogy on that classic game that still feels unique. Yet 10Tons LTD have attempted it, but have they succeeded?
Sparkle Unleashed, like its predecessors, is based on the classic marble shooter Zuma. For those not familiar with the premise, a snake of different coloured marbles slowly make their way towards a “portal” and it is your job to make sure the rolling balls of terror do not reach their target. You do this by shooting more marbles to match three or more of the same colour. This will lead to those marbles disappearing, with the level continuing until all marbles have been removed from play.
It’s a simple premise that has quite literally been done to death. The match-three puzzle game genre has taken on many different appearances over the years on a variety of different platforms, yet their popularity is still as strong as ever. The main reason? They are addicting, they encourage you to play under pressure and most importantly they give the player that feeling of ‘just one more go’, leading to hours and hours of frustration and satisfaction in equal measure.
So what do we get with Sparkle Unleashed? Well pretty much more of the same, but is that really a bad thing? The most noticeable difference right out of the gate is with your shooter. Whereas in Sparkle 2 the shooter was in a set position, you can now move it from left to right along the bottom of the screen to aim at different marbles. Though this change doesn’t really add a whole new dimension to the gameplay, I did find it created a greater sense of urgency, with being able to move the shooter across the screen when a snake of marbles was centimetres from its target portal. Returning from previous games in the series is the ability to aim using the joysticks or using the touch screen. Though both ways work well, using the joysticks remains the best way to play, as although taping the screen can give you a more accurate shot, having your finger block the screen can hinder your progress in a game where you are constantly thinking ahead to your next move.
As you begin your marble shooting journey, things are timid as you are slowly eased into the game. But very quickly you will find yourself trying to reduce the size of multiple strands of marbles, constantly finding yourself only just avoiding the Game Over screen. This intensity really made completing a particularly gruelling level extremely satisfying, and kept me coming back for more time and time again.
A particular highlight of the Sparkle series so far has been its bright, colourful and unique art design as well as its fantastic audio. You get more of the same in Unleashed, with each level bursting with colour as well as having a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in an epic fantasy Hollywood blockbuster. I would definitely recommend playing with headphones in as even though the tracks do repeat, they are such a joy to listen to that this is quickly forgiven.
Similar to previous instalments, as you progress through each level you will unlock new power ups to assist you on your marble destroying journey. You can mix and match three power up at a time, and as you play increasingly more difficult levels you will be extremely thankful of these aides. Some assist you with destroying more marbles at a time, others give you more time to battle a worryingly close marble strand. Each one can come in handy, and you’ll find yourself constantly trying different combinations to explore different ways of tackling each level.
Colour blind assist mode once again makes an appearance from previous instalments, and for me personally it really was a massive help. If like myself, you suffer from colour blindness of any severity, then this mode really will be a lifesaver. With this mode enabled, each coloured marble will have a different symbol, making it much easier to decipher which marbles are from the same ilk. You can enable this anytime in a level, which really is a nice addition.
You may be starting to see a trend with this review. Sparkle Unleashed is fun and addicting just like the previous games… but it is all just a bit to similar. There are no drastic new additions, with the design and gameplay remaining almost exactly the same. That is not to say that there aren’t any new additions. Chained and Rock orbs thrown into the mix do add an extra sense of strategy to how you play, with survival mode and extra difficulties settings to unlock giving players a reason to keep coming back.
But are those reasons enough to encourage people re-enter the world of Sparkle? For the price of admission you do get a lot of content and it is just as addictive as it has always been, but it does all just seem a little too familiar. You can’t help but wonder whether creating a whole new game was justified.