They say that flattery is the most sincere form of appreciation. If this is the case, then the video game industry is the world’s greatest love letter. As long as can be remembered, successful games are recreated and serve as inspiration for future titles. While a lot of the time this involves shovelware, asset flips, and various other forgettable titles, sometimes you get great games. What sets the successes apart from the failures is their ability to recreate the highs of the source material while adding something new and fresh.
Another game from 10tons, Sparkle Unleashed draws inspiration from Zuma. Like the source material, your task is to match colored balls together as they move down the track, and keep them from being dropped in a hole at the end of the road. However, the first difference is the delivery method. While Zuma had you centered with the tracks moving around your ball-spitting frog, Sparkle Unleashed has you firing from a device at the bottom of your screen. Rather than spinning to aim, you move left and right, but your ability to see and switch with the next ball color remains.
Despite the similar framework, differences start growing as you play more. For starters, there is no score. You are not judged on your points, but rather just simply tasked with completing the level. The majority of levels have you clearing a set amount of pushers, which are a fixture that sits behind the balls and serves as the stopping point for each wave. They serve as markers for each bunching, vanishing when their cargo is cleared or two groups meet up, combining into one large cache. Each completed pusher adds to the total you need to clear, and once they’re all empty, the level is beaten.
Several levels, rather than focusing on pushers, require you to keep the never-ending deluge of balls from reaching the end. With a timer replacing the pusher allotment, you are tasked with holding out for two minutes. These are often spaced far out between the main objective levels and are a nice pallet cleanser for getting back into the horde styled levels.
Now while the score doesn’t matter, this doesn’t mean that chains aren’t important. In fact, they feel more important, as every three matches in a row awards you a power-up. These power-ups destroy balls, push back the flow, or manipulate the balls already on the field. Starting with only two little ones, every set number of levels the game allows you to unlock a new power-up or upgrade an existing one. These upgrades are both helpful and hurtful, as often the next level changes things dramatically.
However, these boosts are integral to beating later levels. As you progress, extra challenges are added. More ball colors are a given, but you end up with the block balls that need to be next to a match to be cleared. Also adding difficulty are the locks that keep those balls in play for one or two extra matches, meaning clearing them out is that much more difficult. These extra obstacles are mixed up and never stacked too heavily on top of each other, keeping their hindrance within reach but requiring more luck and skill to defeat them.
The amount of levels available is staggering. After you reach the end, you can restart but are given the choice to move up in difficulty, keeping your power-up rewards. These higher difficulties are no joke and keep the pace of the game steady. Add to this the survival mode, which uses the pushers to create a never-ending onslaught of balls, ramping up in difficulty as time goes on. The longer you survive, the more stars you earn, and unlocking more stars opens up new maps to play on. This adds more longevity to an already large game.
Sparkle Unleashed is not without its flaws though. The focus on winding maps and horizontal shooting means that you can get tied up very easily if you aren’t careful. Double this when you encounter two different tracks, meaning you have to split your attention and they often will block each other. Yes this is part of the challenge, but it can come across as frustrating at times. Furthering this is the desire sensor. Many instances exist of me needing a particular colored shot to save my current run, but after going through several balls, it doesn’t appear until too late and my run is lost.
There’s also a slight story, but minimal doesn’t do it justice as all story pieces are vague mentions of monuments on the map. The aesthetics of the world are pleasing and consistent. Levels are referred to as days and move down a trail, with the ground of the actual levels matching your place on the map. The music is similar to the story, there but not that important. The song choice isn’t bad, but every level seems to have the same song and it gets old fast.
One feature that truly deserves to be mentioned is the color blind option. I am partially red-green color blind, meaning that while I can see the colors, variations and certain mixtures are hard to distinguish. This was the case when I first started the game, and I had issue distinguishing between the red and green balls. The game has an option for color blind players, adding symbols to the balls that are easily and quickly noticeable, making the game more inclusive. This instantly bolstered my spirits.
Sparkle Unleashed is a game that doesn’t do much, but it doesn’t have to. Built with the blueprints of Zuma, it changes enough and focuses on what’s important to keep the game fast and fun. The ‘just one more level’ feel is strong in this one, as levels rarely take more than a few minutes. I wouldn’t call it an outstanding game, but I can definitely call it fun.
Disclaimer: 10tons provided a download code for this review.