Finnish developer 10tons Ltd initially caught my attention with quirky games like King Oddball, Tennis in the Face, and the gore-filled top-down shooter Crimsonland. Little did I know they were also pretty adept at crafting puzzle games; the latest of which, Sparkle Unleashed, released on Xbox One earlier this month, and charts familiar territory for anyone accustomed to PopCap’s Zuma titles.
The concept is simple: Rows of colored marbles follow a zig-zaggy path from an entrance point to a dark hole. Your objective is to match three of the same color by shooting additional marbles from the bottom in order to break them all before they reach the end of their path. It’s not as easy as it sounds, though. The way paths are laid out often cause your targets to loop around rocks, go underground, or even swirl between other rows of marbles to make them invulnerable for a period of time.
“The game plays smoothly and has a stern-yet-fair level of difficulty, but where it falters is in its repetition.”
To offset the difficulty, playing through the game’s campaign allows you to unlock power-ups that can be used any time you score three matches in a row. These can really turn the tide with abilities that splash an area with the same color for easier matches, summon a gust of wind to reverse their momentum, or cause a cluster of marbles to decay off the field completely. There’s a nice chunk of power-ups to unlock, but you can only have 4 active at any time; so playing around and choosing ones that complement each other is the key to victory.
The game plays smoothly and has a stern-yet-fair level of difficulty, but where it falters is in its repetition. There’s more than 100 stages to play through during the campaign and its accompanied survival mode, but you’ll probably see all the game has to offer after the 20th or so. Like drinking booze, pacing is important, but Sparkle just shotguns everything in the early going. There’s lava rocks that can only be broken when marbles are matched next to them, or chained marbles that need to be matched more than once, but after that it’s just more of the same.
Throughout the campaign there’s only a couple of ways a stage can go as well: You either take out a set amount of marbles, or survive the given time limit. The backgrounds only change ever so slightly, with different variations of the same forests and snowy areas shown over and over again, and the campaign’s generic story doesn’t do much to detract from that.
There isn’t much to talk about in terms of background music and sound effects either. What exists is fine, and that’s alright as it doesn’t distract from the frantic puzzle solving or reflexes required to overcome some of the steeper challenges. The graphics are also nothing to write home about, although they’re not necessarily bad or dated. It’s a puzzle game after all, not Witcher 3. There’s even a colorblind mode that adds shapes to the marbles, and although I’m not colorblind I actually preferred to play the game with this mode activated as I felt it added more character than just firing off bland spheres.
“Sparkle Unleashed is an incredibly addictive puzzler with a solid match-three foundation…”
As long as you don’t mind playing through the same backdrops for more than 100 stages, Sparkle Unleashed is an incredibly addictive puzzler with a solid match-three foundation and a fun array of power-ups at your disposal. With the addition of a hard-as-nails Survival mode and 2 additional difficulty settings, there’s a good amount of replay value for $8 if you can look beyond its repetition.
It’s a game that I played for a few hours on my first go, and I still have fun with it today in short bursts, but subsequent playthroughs were far shorter after I realized that I’d already seen it all on day one. Change up the backdrops a bit and toss in a local versus mode though, and I’d call it the best puzzler on the Xbox One.
Recommended for fans of: Zuma, Peggle, Bust-a-Move, or any sort of match-three puzzler.
*This review is based on the Xbox One version of Sparkle Unleashed, which is also available on Playstation platforms. If you’re still unsure about the game, download the free trial which unlocks the first 23 stages. Learn more about 10tons LTD and thier games right here.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s no stranger to sinking an absurd amount of time in to an MMO, but also has a deep seeded love for quirky indie games, pro wrestling, horror films, and his hometown of Baltimore, MD. Get in touch with him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.