Historically, January can be a dry month when it comes to big budget releases which means people will be looking to the smaller market to bide their time before the next “Uncharted.”
While it is far from revolutionary, fans of puzzle games will find a good time in “Sparkle 2,” a marble shooter from developer 10 Tons. The gameplay is fun and can become fast paced, while the challenge ramps up as the game rolls on and even when the main “story” finishes, players can lose hours in the various challenge modes.
The game is extremely easy to pick up for anyone who is interested. Players take control of a launcher positioned in various places in the respective maps and shoot marbles at the string of orbs scrolling through the lanes. The goal is to fill the rune circle before the marbles fill the map completely. This is achieved by creating combos of three or more marbles of the same color. Simple right?
Each level takes place during a game day, totaling up to around 90 days. As the game goes on and gamers move through the Shadegrown Forest, they will collect five different keys and advance through the world.
The presentation in “Sparkle 2” is very well done, especially for a smaller puzzle game. The marbles are colorful and detailed while the maps feel as though they fit nicely in the game world of the Shadegrown Forest. The powerups are whimsical and fun to watch as they explode across the screen. Additionally the music is of a very high quality. I found myself humming along during my time playing the game and even after I had turned off my Xbox One.
Players coming to “Sparkle 2” expecting some form of narrative will leave very disappointed. There is never really a good explanation on why gamers are supposed to be finding these keys. The story is just there to pad achievement totals and keep players going. Also, the ending might as well be a large stone sculpture of a middle finger because the game literally ends without any form of closure. The one positive here is the narrator. It sounds as though he is reading a bed time story to his grandchildren and was as professionally recorded as he was pleasant to listen to.
But let’s put this into perspective. No one is coming to “Sparkle 2” for a Shakespearean yarn; they’re here to blow up marbles.
The game’s greatest strength is that the developers knew it’s a simple puzzle game and it excels in that. While very simple, “Sparkle 2” does a great job of pacing the challenge of a seemingly easy game. As players trek through the forest, the game adds different colored marbles and speeds up the rate in which the orbs are added to the lane. The difficulty spike is countered through different buffs players can unlock as they continuously beat levels, such as the ability to make marbles explode or to slow the crawl of the orbs. These unlocks balance the faster paced levels but still keeps the game challenging enough to keep players engaged. There was a couple times where I found myself panicking to save my game at the last second, only to curse out those damn little marbles when too many flowed through the end point.
Another staple of a good puzzle game is how repayable it is and this is where “Sparkle 2” both hits and misses the mark. Once the main quest is completed, the game opens up the ability for players to replay the game again on hard or nightmare difficulties. While I did not play much of the other two levels, they were a steep increase in how challenging they were in comparison to the normal mode. It also adds a challenge, cataclysm and survival mode which can double the playtime of the base game.
The problem though is while there may be a lot of content here, things can become repetitive. The maps may change in difficulty, but there is only a set handful to play through. Players will see the same courses over and over again. The gameplay was fun enough for me to keep going but “Sparkle 2” started to drag towards the end of the game because I felt like I was playing the same game for the hundredth time. The repetitiveness almost made me want to stop playing, something great puzzle games such as “Peggle” and “Bejeweled” never made me feel. I always wanted to play “one more game” of those and towards the end of “Sparkle 2,” I felt like I could have put it down and not come back for a long time. After I completed the main levels, I felt no need to go back and play the other modes except to feed my achievement addiction.
This is the same with the music. As I stated earlier, the score is surprisingly well done for a smaller indie game but again there are only a handful of songs, so the music can get tiring after a few hours.
Over the course of around six hours, I found myself thoroughly enjoying my time with “Sparkle 2.” The gameplay is solid and fun, while the challenge it presents kept me coming back. The question becomes how much repetition are players willing to put up with? If they are able to get past the almost nonexistent variation of maps and repetitive, while catchy, score, they will find a quality puzzle game that has a solid amount of replayability. I feel as though this is a game that will do a lot better on mobile devices but at a $7.99 price point on consoles, there could be worse ways to spend the cold winter months.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10