Game Review: Sparkle (PS Vita)

Game Review

Sparkle is a puzzle game available for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS Vita. Sparkle has previously been released on many platforms, such as iOS, Android, Windows and more besides since 2007, while receiving critical acclaim and winning the Calling All Innovators Grand Prize award in 2011 as awarded by Nokia Developer.

Sparkle is an orb matching game in which you must fire an orb from the orb slinger situated in the centre of the screen to position it in the centre or to the left or right of multiple orbs of the matching colour to remove them from the game board. The quest mode sees you thrust into a quite enchanting story in which you are playing to save the forest and its population from darkness as the story centres around a dark entity that has shrouded the land of Crowberry Woods that must be banished in order to reclaim your land and ensure the safety of those who live there. The challenge mode sees you having to clear the orbs spread across a number of challenging levels and the survival mode sees you lasting as long as you can until the queue of orbs become too long for you to handle. The challenge and survival modes are initially locked and are unlocked after around five successfully completed levels of the quest game mode.

For anyone with colour blindness who may be thinking that a game revolving around the premise of matching coloured orbs would not be for them will be glad to hear that there is an excellent colour blind mode available from the options menu that places symbols within each of the coloured orbs, which is incredibly effective for anyone with colour blindness and even a nice touch for people without colour blindness that would just like to use a different method of identifying which orbs to match up. The colour blind mode is quite a clever idea as it also massively expands the applicable audience of the game without the brightness of the colours ever becoming a problem.

Once you have completed a few levels; the level selection menu will provide you with the opportunity to choose a level from the left or the right path, which makes the selection more thought provoking and interesting, rather than just going from one level to the next. You start out with three lives and in the case that you lose all of your lives, you will return to your previous checkpoint with all of your lives restored. The checkpoint is the last occasion when you were able to choose a level from the left or right paths.

You will unlock amulets as you progress further through the game that provide powers, such as the Amulet of Swift that makes your orbs shoot twice as fast, therefore making it easier to hit your targets; the Amulet of Orb that provides an extra orb slot on your orb slinger that allows you to plan ahead more efficiently; and many more besides totalling to fifteen amulets.

The screen after you have completed a level is rather helpful as it informs you of the time taken to complete the level; the number of orbs thrown; the longest combo of matched orbs; and the longest chain of matched orbs, alongside how many more levels you must successfully complete before earning an amulet and an extra life.

The extras menu contains a how to play feature that also includes an orb slinger in the centre of the screen with a line of orbs at the bottom of the screen that move from left to right for you to practice playing the game, while the achievements listing showcases the trophies you have earned with an amulet consisting of eight pieces that each represent a trophy. There is also a listing of achievements that consist of statistical analysis ranging from the amount of time you have played the game; the amount of orbs thrown; the amount of orbs popped; longest chain and combo; the total amount of matches made; the amount of pushers you have destroyed; how many occasions you have completed the quest mode on the normal, expert and master difficulty levels to the amulets of you have unlocked; the amount of secrets you have uncovered; the trophies you have earned and in-depth details covering your win and lose percentages of each level you have played and your power-up usage.

There are various secrets hidden within the game referred to as sparkle secrets, although you will have to search hard to find them all, but it is certainly worth searching for all of the secrets as you will unlock an amulet for every three secrets you find. Three examples of sparkle secrets are matching a particular amount of the orbs at the bottom of the how to play menu; collecting and using a certain amount of the power-ups; and preventing the motion of the four orbs on the achievements menu.

The controls are simplistic as they consist of a touch screen based control scheme with an alternative control scheme for the face buttons that are both incredibly easy to learn. The face buttons controls consist of pressing X or R to fire the orb; O or L to change the colour of the orb between the current orb and the following orb; changing the direction of the left or right analogue sticks to manoeuvre the orb slinger in order for it to be facing in the appropriate direction; and start or select to display the pause menu. The touch screen based controls consist of simply tapping amongst the coloured orbs to designate where you want the orb to be fired; tapping the orb slinger will change the colour of the orb between the current orb and the following orb; tapping the pause icon to the top right of the screen to display the pause menu. The touch screen controls are very accurate and they had to be to enable you to fire the orb with enough precision to position it in the appropriate place with the matching coloured orbs.

The graphics are simplistic yet effective with great shades and tones of colour on every orb and power-up in contrast to the dark background of the game board. However, the graphics do not bring the story to life as much as they should as the story only unfolds through text, rather than video sequences or animation, which is really my only criticism of the game.

The presentation of the game is solid with a great touch screen based user interface across various menus such as the main menu, extras menu, how to play, achievements and options menu, although it does not include support for navigation via the left and right analogue sticks, directional pad, face buttons or rear touch pad. The background of the menu screens looks very colourful and vibrant as they contain a collective of moving butterflies that can be interacted with via dragging your finger across the touch screen as a shifting light shines upon them with sparkles of light descending from them and the logo of the game in the foreground with a still image of mushrooms in a field in the background.

The audio consists of enchanting music and sound effects akin to those found in Peggle; particularly in the sense of how the music and sound effects provide you with a sense of achievement every time you complete a level.

The trophy list includes ten trophies with seven bronze trophies, one silver trophy and two gold trophies. The trophies are mostly quite easy and are earned naturally through playing the game; as you will most certainly improve your intuition to a point that the pairings of the orbs will progressively become second nature, such as the Combo 5X bronze trophy for gaining a 5X combo multiplier and the Chain 12X bronze trophy for gaining a 12X chain multiplier. There are a few easier trophies that will be earned purely by putting time into the game, such as the Thousand Orbs bronze trophy for popping a total of one thousand orbs; the Four Hours bronze trophy for playing Sparkle for four hours; the 200 Levels bronze trophy for completing 200 levels; the 2000 matches bronze trophy for matching 2,000 sets of the same coloured orbs; and the Hundred Pushers bronze trophy for destroying a hundred pushers. There are harder trophies that you will achieve given time, such as earning the Quest Completed silver trophy for having completed your quest, the Quest Expert gold trophy for completing your quest on the expert difficulty level and the Quest Master gold trophy. I would estimate depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between five to ten hours to 100% the trophy list.

There are four sets of difficulty levels that are unlocked after you have completed the previous difficulty level. The four sets of difficulty levels applies for all of the three game modes, although you have to complete the quest mode before you get access to the next difficulty level, while you are able to access the following difficulty level once you have completed each level in the previous difficulty level during the challenge and survival game modes. The difference between the difficulty levels appears to be an additional emphasis on the speed of the orbs as they enter and travel around the game board.

There are no online multiplayer modes, although I believe that this is not exactly the kind of game that would naturally support online multiplayer other than perhaps a competitive multiplayer mode to see who can complete a level or a series of levels the fastest or a co-operative multiplayer mode were the orbs would be travelling twice as fast and both players would be trying to clear all of the orbs in order to progress through each of the levels, but as this genre of game does not typically have online multiplayer it results in there being no big loss to the gameplay. However, there are no online leaderboards, which is a surprise as I could imagine there being online leaderboards for the best times set to complete each level and the best times set to complete the entire game.

The replayability of Sparkle is exceptional as it will provide plenty of fun spread across three game modes in the form of quest, challenge and survival modes with lots of secrets to be found and customisable gameplay provided by the fifteen amulets granting the player with different powers. Perhaps the game could have included a single player time attack mode which would have essentially been the opposite of the survival mode with the time ticking down, rather than counting upwards and it would have been great to see some form of competitive and co-operative online multiplayer with the inclusion of online leaderboards, but despite what Sparkle is missing, you have to focus on the hours of fun and replayability that you will be enjoying.

Overall, Sparkle is an essential purchase for any fans of puzzle games and orb or block matching games with exceptional replayability and features; Sparkle is made all the more of an attractive purchase with the price point at £3.99! As the game will only set you back 30Mb on your Vita’s memory card, a price of just £3.99 and hours of replayability across three separate game modes with a brilliant colour blind mode that makes the game accessible to every gamer, Sparkle is an easily recommendable title from a development team at 10Tons that has even more to offer the Vita in the future.

Jason Bonnar

At A Glance

  • Title: Sparkle
  • Publisher: 10Tons Ltd
  • System: PS Vita
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: No
  • Cross Play: No
  • Online Multiplayer: No
  • Memory Card Space Needed: 30Mb
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