In the age of digital distribution, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Mobile marketplaces and digital distribution centers are rife with copycat games that offer inferior experiences to the games they’re trying to be. However, it is entirely possible that a “clone” could be just as good or even better than the original. Sparkle makes its way onto the Vita over from mobile devices. At first glance, it is simply a clone of Zuma. However, it does have just enough differences to differentiate itself from that series while still keeping the essence intact.
There are three primary modes in the game. The quest mode is rather light on story, but you have limited lives and can earn amulets that give you special powers. The amulets are awarded for reaching milestones, and do things like speed up your shots, increase the rate of power-ups, and other suck things. Playing a bit in this mode will unlock challenge mode and survival. Survival is simply about seeing how long you can hold up, while challenge mode is more of a time trial. You can play any of the courses on one of four difficulty levels in order to best your own time. Unlike Zuma, you don’t score points, so you’ll have to do with besting your own times.
The presentation for this game is quite simple, as you’d imagine. Each course is a static screen with a trail for the marbles to follow. Your launcher is situated in a fixed point, and you launch marbles at incoming streams in order to create matches and clear marbles. The colors are rich and dark, adding to the fantasy atmosphere the game is trying to convey. The various power-ups in the game create some amusing affects, such as bolts of fire, sprays of colored powder, and meteorites crashing onto the course. It’s a simple look, but one that looks more than fine for what it is.
Keeping up with the fantasy theme, the music is darkly energetic. The fast pace and staccato strings work nicely with the every creeping stream of marbles. However, the danger music when the marbles get too close to the goal is a bit jarring. It feels more in line with a horror/adventure game rather than a fast paced puzzler. The effects are solid and amusing. Using the wild card power-up results in an amusing laugh that never failed to illicit a chuckle. I wouldn’t say this is a game where you absolutely need to keep the volume up, but it won’t be a bother if you do.
The setup is simple. Veritable conga lines of colored marbles are being pushed down a track towards a hole in the floor. If they reach that hole, you lose. Your only defense is launching more marbles at the incoming ones. Making a group of three or more like colored marbles will clear them out slowing down the train and maybe even reeling it backwards a bit. As you progress through the game, you’ll have more marbles to contend with, more colors, and a faster pace.
You can use the analog stick and the buttons to play the game, but to really get the most out of the experience, you’re going to watch to use the touch screen. You can simply tap where you want your shot to go, and tap the launcher to switch between available colors. It makes things more accurate and more timely. In a game like this, where time is of the essence, and accuracy is paramount, the touch screen controls are preferable.
Sparkle does away with the scores, but still keeps the chains and combos. You can keep track of your best combo and chain, as well as earn some trophies, but that’s it. This makes each level more about simple survival rather than creating a top score. That’s a drastic change, and one that will likely ruffle some feathers.
Power-ups are where the game takes an even more drastic change from Zuma, however. As you play through levels, these power-ups will appear. If you can can shoot them, you’ll get to use them. These range from spells that destroy random marbles, paint that turns huge sections of marbles into one color, sending the whole train backwards, slowing it down, etc. There are a bunch of different items in the game, and each of them proves useful in some manner. The trick is in creating an opening so that you can actually activate them.
If you’ve played these types of games before, you already know that it can be strangely addicting. It’s hard to not say “one more” and end up plugging away for hours at a time. While there isn’t a whole lot of content here per se, each level is a challenge in its own right. The power-ups are nifty for sure, though they do seem to help lower the challenge as a result. I haven’t managed to lose a round yet. This makes the game more or less appealing, depending on your personal preference.
Also worth mentioning, before I wrap things up, is that the game adds an option to make it more accessible for those that suffer from color blindness. The marbles keep their colors, but gain runes that distinguish themselves enough to be easy to spot. It’s a small thing, but it’s a pretty decent gesture nonetheless.
Short Attention Span Summary
Until Zuma makes an appearance on the Vita, Sparkle is a very solid option. The controls are tight, the colors are vibrant, and the power-ups make things a bit interesting. The lack of scoring might make it a little less palatable for fans of the genre, but the game is solid otherwise. At six bucks, it offers a reasonably priced option for Vita owners.