Thanks to the genius pairing of Tetris with GameBoy, many consider puzzle games the perfect portable genre. Of course, the game itself has to be good to warrant constant replaying. Outside of Lumines: Electronic Symphony, the Vita has really been lacking in simple, quality puzzlers. Thankfully, developer 10tons Ltd. brought Sparkle to the system recently. The name itself might not inspire much faith, but gameplay is where all the magic happens.
Sparkle, at its core, is a twist on the match-three puzzle subgenre. Your goal is to match groups of differently-colored orbs so they are removed from the screen. There need to be at least three touching to make this work, although you can also string together much larger groups. What differentiates this game from Bejeweled, Bubble Bobble, and the like is the layout of said objects. Instead of a grid-like orientation, the orbs run down a twisting track.
The shape of this track changes per stage and might resemble a spiral, snake, or just a series of wiggles. Orbs are confined to the track and march along it at a steady pace, with many in line behind them. Their goal is to reach a hole at the end of the track. Obviously, you don’t want them to make it! As such, the player shoots orbs from a static location in hopes of matching colors to destroy them all. Just like other games, the colors that turn up for your use are (mostly) randomized. In a nice touch, when only a few orbs are left onscreen, the shootable orbs will always match up to the final few colors.
There are other ways to effect your orbs as well as the ones progressing down the line. First, there are powerups which appear after being effectively destructive. Each has its own symbol, but you won’t know what they do until trying them out. Some have the power of changing colors, removing orbs from the board, or simply slowing time. Although it might seem like cheating to use them at first, later levels prove powerups to be a necessity.
Another mode of help comes in the form of amulets. Amulets are gained through beating enough levels and offer an overall effect on stages, rather than a brief one. By selecting an amulet to wear, you might increase the speed of your shooting overall until choosing to wear another one. At that point, the previous amulet’s effect is useless, as the other takes over. Amulets can only be switched between stages but prove useful.
Visually, Sparkle doesn’t go over the top with, well, sparkles or anything else but it sure looks nice. The backdrop seems more earthy and sometimes magical. Powerups offer the most visual flair, sometimes appearing as bursts of fire or fireworks. Each orb is brightly colored so any mistakes in orb placement are all on you. There is also a color blind mode which is a great addition considering the experience is so reliant upon telling colors apart.
Although the gameplay is good enough to not require equally appealing music, this title goes above and beyond in the soundtrack department. A few tracks sound like something you’d hear from Danny Elfman and that’s a far greater deal of quality than can be said for most puzzle games. Music really aids the experience, making it easy to get wrapped up in completing stages. When orbs approach the abyss, the music changes to be reflect the stressful situation.
Is what Sparkle offers completely fabulous, though? No, there are a few issues with the implementation of touch controls. Mostly this is due to the fact that your finger and hand are covering part of the screen’s action when preparing a shot. This isn’t a fault of the developers so much as touch screen technology itself. Although you can use the Vita’s analog stick to aim shots it is far less precise. As such, sticking with touch is recommended, but then you may be unable to see upcoming orbs.
You can find an increasing library of puzzle games on the Vita, but many of them attempt to tweak the genre in such a way that it becomes far too convoluted. Others, like Dokuro, are fantastic but not pure puzzle experiences. Those who want a puzzle game with simple mechanics, tons of replayability and is just plain fun should download Sparkle.
Version Reviewed: PS Vita