TITLE: Sparkle 2 (PS4)
PRICE: $7.99 (Crossbuy with PSVita)
PLAYED ON: Playstation 4
HOURS PLAYED: 13
NOTE: I was sent an advance review copy of this game by 10Tons.
Years and years ago when I had a Playstation 1, there were a handful of games that I played more than any others. One was Crash Bandicoot: Warped, which got heavy play. Another was "Apocalypse" which featured a character modeled after Bruce Willis, with his face and voice. It was, looking back, kind of a horrible game, and yet I loved it. Sure, he only had like six or seven phrases that he would speak, along the lines of "I.......Feel.........GOOD!" and "Strap one on, it's time to jam!". Very cliche type dialogue. As far as 3rd person shooters go, it was fairly entertaining, however with my depth perception issues it was a pain in the ass, because a lot of it involved jumping towards and away from the camera to other platforms, and I wasn't very good at judging distances. This led to me frustratingly repeating specific sections ad nauseum.
MORE AFTER THE BREAK
The third game that I played a whole helluva lot was a match 3 arcade type game called "Ballistic". While it didn't sell well (I assume, since it went out of print quickly and it was very difficult to track down to buy it again when I lost my initial copy), and it didn't have a lot of variation to it, it was something that really resonated with me for whatever reason.
Over the years there have been numerous versions of this type of game, the most famous being Zuma and Luxor. I can't even begin to count up all the hours I have put into these games over the years, on a variety of platforms, whether it's a console like the Ps1/2/3 or a PC or a tablet. More so than any other type of gameplay out there, when it comes to the "casual" market, this is my thing.
So I was thrilled when I read recently that indie games makers 10Tons, from Finland, have a match three game coming to the PS4 and Steam this coming Tuesday (May 20th 2014). I first discovered 10Tons when I bought the physics based indie title "King Oddball" on the Playstation 4 recently. I didn't know what to expect from the game, but I really found myself enjoying it a lot.
There are similarities, I suppose, to games like Angry Birds, Catapult King or any other number of physics based games, however I don't think that detracts from it. There are a lot of games out there that are similar in nature to others. That doesn't make it a negative thing, unless they're just so over the top ripping off the other game's style and whatnot (hello Flappy Bird).
King Oddball has enough quirkiness to it that it doesn't matter. It's a lot of fun, and there's a lot of extra stuff to do once you complete all the levels. There's a diamond mode, where you have to complete the level without using the last rock/diamond. There are the grenade levels where you get, rather than rocks, grenades to blow stuff up. There's also a "one rock" mode where you have to beat each level with a single rock.
There's also a "Secret Mustache World" that you unlock by collecting the mustaches that are strewn throughout the various corners of the game. Bottom line, there's a ton of content here, and if these are your types of games, then you'd be silly not to grab it.
Which brings me to the new game by 10Tons, "Sparkle 2". Apparently they released a "Sparkle Unleashed" last year for the PS Vita and Steam. I was not aware of this (as I don't have a VITA and don't play on Steam all that much), but I read recently that they had a sequel and once I saw the trailer, I knew I would love this. I hadn't played a really good Match 3 game in quite some time (since Zuma on the PS3) and I was excited that a new one was coming out on the PS4, this coming Tuesday, May 20th.
First thing you notice when playing this is the beautiful graphics. Exquisitely polished and shiny, this is just a joy to look at. The sound on this is damn good as well, with a really fantastic soundtrack. The score on this is great to listen to, also, and much like King Oddball's simple little theme music, will perhaps get into your head a little bit.
Also, like King Oddball, there's just SO. MUCH. TO. DO. There's two separate modes (Challenge + Survival) in addition to the THREE quest modes (Normal, Hard and Nightmare). I haven't gotten to Nightmare mode yet, but from some of the reactions I've read on Twitter by other reviewers, it's no joke.
Something that was really cool, I felt, was that there was a storyline to this. A lot of these games, there's just some slim vague excuse for a storyline, but this was kind of cool. Nothing on Naughty Dog's level, of course, but for the type of game, I was impressed that there was a thread holding it all together, so to speak. As you go through the story mode collecting the 5 keys that you need to open the portal at the end, you collect "Enchantments".
These Enchantments will make your Orb Slinger Rune, which you use to throw the various colored marbles out to make your matches, more powerful. There are four slots that you will eventually open up and about five enchantments for each slot. Some of them seem to have minimal effect, and others can really save your ass when you're in a tight spot, such as the "Fire Spinner" which activates when you fill up your Orb Slinger Rune, and it shoots out fireballs destroying any Colored Orbs that it touches. This can really bail you out when you're up against it, and you're about to lose.
Another thing I liked was that there's a sort of "New Game +" element here because when you start Hard and Nightmare, you get to keep all the enchantments that you've already earned. So you go in to the harder levels already powered up. I like that you don't have to earn all that again, while also facing the daunting task of a much quicker pace to things, and a lot less reaction time.
In addition to the two bonus Quest Modes, you have "Challenge" mode and "Survival" mode. Survival mode, is just what it sounds like. Each level you get a certain number of stars depending on how long you lasted. There's no time requirements on this, so it's sort of a trial and error when it comes to how long you have to play in order to get 5 stars. I've played the first four or five Survival levels and I haven't had any problem getting to 5 Stars, and when you achieve 5 stars, it'll flash on screen letting you know, so at that point you can either keep going to just see how long you can go, or allow yourself to lose so you can then go on to the next one.
I think that due to the lack of a "time requirement", and perhaps Leaderboards for the Survival levels, I think that it removes a bit of fun to them, and the encouragement to keep playing to get better and better scores. As it stands with no leaderboards, and no time requirements, once you get that notification of 5 stars, there's really no reason to keep playing that level. If there were some sort of time requirement, then that could encourage people to keep on playing after getting 5 stars, because you'd not only have the situation where you could keep on going for even longer and longer (as it stands, once you hit 5 stars, there's no other achievement), but also you're competing against other people for who can play for the longest.
Now, having said that, this is coming from a player, not a dev. I imagine that kind of thing requires time and money, two things that I am not the one putting towards that, so perhaps it's just one of those things where it's easy for the gamer to say "hey, this should have been like that!" when we're not the ones seeing how things get made and how difficult certain aspects may be.
Challenge Mode is a mode where you beat each level on three different difficulty settings. I played through a handful of those, and it didn't seem to be too difficult, but I'm sure as it goes down the rabbit hole, so to speak, the difficulty level amps up.
You can also keep track of your stats, as well as your progress in the game as well as your trophy achievements in one of the menu options:
Another really cool thing was 10Ton's use of the PS4's Dualshock 4 Lightbar. As you rotate different colored orbs through your orbslinger, your lightbar changes to the respective colors. It's very cool how various games are utilizing the lightbar in interesting ways.
The game also makes use of the DS4 Touchpad, which you can use to aim and fire the orbs as well. I'm not very good with the touchpad, so while I tried it out just to see how it worked, I mostly stuck to the tried and true sticks and buttons.
All in all, this is a really fun game and one that I think, if this is your type of game, then you should definitely get. With multiple modes, many unlockables and beautiful graphics & soundtrack, this is definitely a must have indie title on the PS4, and I recommend it very much.
This title also includes 14 Unlockable Trophies, none of which are online related, although you need to complete the game three times to get everything (includes complete quest on Hard and Nightmare difficulties). Do not believe they are stackable, but I am not sure.
I kind of wish there were more trophies than the 14 that are in the game. There's a lot of areas, I think, that could trigger a trophy, such as "beat X number of levels without dying" or "complete a level without using a power-up" or "complete level in X time". As I said before, though, this is coming from a gamer, not a dev, so I don't know what all goes into establishing the trophy system and how difficult that may or may not be.
Also, the trophy list is locked until closer to release date, so I do not know how many of the trophies are bronze/silver/gold. There is no platinum for this.
10Tons have really shown themselves to be a group of devs that truly care about providing solid content to the consumers for good prices. King Oddball is priced at $6.99 and includes a lot of gameplay, to go with a truly fun and challenging experience. Same with Sparkle 2, which in addition to all that, also boasts fantastic audio and visuals.
Up next for 10Tons is a remastering of "Crimsonland", which is described as a "Top Down Shooter with a touch of RPG". Definitely interested, and going off of 10Tons' track record, I think we may be in for another solid offering.
- Lots of unlockables including Challenge & Survival mode, along with Hard and Nightmare Quest mode, as well as 20 Magic Enhancements for the Orb Slinger.
- Beautiful colorful graphics. NOTE: there's also a colorblind mode, if you happen to require that.
- Stellar soundtrack.
- Serviceable storyline that, while not competing with The Last of Us or Uncharted 2 in the plot category, is interesting and gives you something to strive for, in the way of the five keys that you must achieve.
- Some of the level designs begin to feel repetitive.
- Time Requirements & Leaderboards for Survival/Challenge Modes would probably add some replayability once all the modes are completed.