Folks hard pushed to find a decent match-three puzzler on PlayStation 4 can rest easy as Sparkle 2, by King Oddball developer 10tons Ltd, is a well-crafted effort which will fill that need quite nicely, even if the lack of multiplayer proves to be a glaring omission.
After a narrated introduction that sets the scene for the game’s story; a fantastical but largely forgettable yarn about five enchanted keys lost in a mysterious land, the game starts proper with a tutorial that gets even the most inexperienced of match-three players quickly into the swing of things.
If Sparkle 2 looks like genre-favourite Zuma that’s because in many ways it feels and plays like a homage to the PopCap-developed classic. As a result, the gameplay is both easy to learn and without sounding *too* cliché, difficult to master too. For the uninitiated, you control a ‘shooter’ of sorts that sits in the middle of level while coloured balls roll down a pre-determined route towards an open abyss which, if they reach, results in defeat.
To prevent them from reaching their destination, players have to shoot shaded balls into the winding snake-like formation of coloured orbs as they slowly make their way to the end, with three or more adjacent orbs of the same colour resulting in them disappearing out of existence and being replaced with a shiny combo multiplier which increases the more matches are scored in a row.
As well as ramping up combos and scoring, there are a number of game-changing collectibles which can be snagged mid-game to turn the tide to the player’s advantage. These include such treats as a freeze ray which destroys balls in a straight path, a fire spinner which wildly shoots out destruction at all angles and spells which reverse the balls path or change its colour to match whichever you have ready to fire.
Ultimately, the essence of Sparkle 2 lies in testing the player’s ability to think on the fly and prioritise the elimination of colours further down the path before they become a problem. Equal parts satisfying and testing, the difficulty curve is well-judged enough that the game never becomes frustrating but always offers enough of a staunch challenge to keep players engaged across its more than ninety or so story mode levels.
Aside from what is arguably a decently sized story mode, developer 10 Tons has also included Survival and Challenge modes as well; further expanding what is already a fairly substantial offering and providing additional longevity in the process.
In terms of PlayStation-specific feature support, like King Oddball before it, Sparkle 2 doesn’t skimp on them at all. Besides trophy integration, which smartly encourages the player to hit higher combos and utilise specific sets of powers, 10 Ton’s latest also plays extremely well through Remote-Play; though this should be less of an issue given that Sparkle 2 is sold as a Cross-Buy title anyway.
Audio-visually, Sparkle 2 is actually quite the polished article in spite of the restrained aesthetical ambition that a match-three game would normally mandate. With absolutely razor-sharp 1080p visuals and smooth animation complimented by a colourful and vivid art-style, Sparkle 2 is definitely easy on the eyes to say the least.
Furthermore, a special mention has to be given to the score. An unusual, yet mesmerising marriage of haunting Tim Burton-esque melodies and more epic sounding orchestrals, Sparkle 2’s music proves to be as apt at stimulating the senses as its visuals are.
Where Sparkle 2 comes undone a tad is in the total lack of any sort of multiplayer mode. Whether its competitive, co-operative, local or online multiplayer, Sparkle 2 doesn’t support it and as such, proves to be very much a lonely experience.Less troubling, though still relevant, is the issue of variety which becomes noticeable fairly quickly.
By its very nature, Sparkle 2 is a streamlined prospect which aims to capture the essence of the match-three puzzler and distil it into an attractive and accessible form. In this, it is certainly a success but later on its unflinching adherence to such simple mechanics which can’t really be expanded any more than they already have, might well prove overly repetitious for some over the long haul.
Designed to be enjoyed in bite-sized chunks, Sparkle 2 does a grand job of bringing the match-three puzzler kicking and screaming onto PlayStation 4. It’s easy to get to grips with, difficult to conquer in the later stages and outside of the puzzling omission of multiplayer support, has enough longevity and extra modes to keep genre rookies and veterans engaged for a good while.