Fantasy sells these days, whether it’s the cinematic successes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe or the eager anticipation that greets every new book and movie starring everyone’s favorite teen wizard Harry Potter.
Fantasy also serves as the theme and backdrop for Sparkle, the latest in a long line of games to be inspired by marble-shooters like Zuma and Luxor. While Sparkle isn’t as radical of a departure from the Zuma/Luxor mold as other games (Sky Patrol comes to mind), the handful of fantasy-themed twists definitely work in its favor.
In Sparkle, a darkness has fallen over Crowberry Woods (and in fantasy terms, of course, darkness refers to some vague menacing presence as opposed to something as simple as the sun going down). It’s your goal to reclaim the forest one step at a time by turning back the tide of colored orbs that wind their way around the screen. If the orbs reach the hole in the ground at the end of their journey, its game over, but by controlling a spinning rune-covered orb launcher, you can shoot orbs of your own into the chain to make at least three orbs of the same color touch, which causes them to disappear.
As the game progresses, the boards get increasingly twisty and challenging, the speed of the marching orbs increases, and additional colors are introduced to make the orb chain more complex.
While Sparkle obviously borrows heavily from past games in the genre – Zuma in particular – it does bring some fun innovations to the table:
Progress is recorded on an overhead map of Crowberry Woods, and at certain points the map branches into multiple directions so you have a choice of which area to visit next. The levels themselves are all given cool fantasy-esque names like Walk of the Unwilling, Lands of Irony, and my personal favorite: Blueberry Drain – a level consisting of a spiral canal with a blueberry-colored stain lining the bottom of it.
There are numerous power-ups in the game that function like magic spells. These appear randomly on the screen, and in order to use them you must first hit them with an orb. Some power-ups deploy instantaneously and will perform useful tasks like moving the entire chain backwards, releasing bolts of light that rain down and destroy random orbs, or launching a beam of light that destroys the orbs closest to the hole. Other power-ups you get to control yourself with the launcher, such as the joker orb which matches with any color, color powder that can be sprayed on a group of orbs to make them all the same color, and a frost beam which destroys orbs in whatever direction you aim it in.
You’ll also earn various amulets that can be worn to give yourself advantages in the game, such as a launcher that shoots orbs twice as fast as normal, power-ups that appear more frequently, and power-ups that appear closer to the launcher so they’re easier to snag. You can put on a different amulet at the start of each new level, so deciding which amulet’s powers to take advantage of in certain levels adds an additional layer of strategy to the gameplay.
In addition to the main mode, there’s also a Survival mode where you play one board for as long as you can without dying, and a Challenge mode where you choose a board and try to complete it in the shortest time while testing yourself on each of the four difficulty levels.
The makers of Sparkle clearly aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel. They stick pretty closely to the Zuma formula, and while the innovations they do bring to the table are neat, they certainly aren’t as whacky or creative as others that we’ve seen. Also, the game gives the impression of showing its hand too early – most of the power-ups show up early on in the game so that there are long stretches of levels where nothing new is introduced to keep things fresh.
Still, for marble shooter fans who need to kill time before the next Harry Potter book comes out, Sparkle is worth a look.