Version Reviewed: Nintendo Swtich
(Game copy provided by the developers)
Despite having released on a multitude of other platforms over the years, Sparkle 2 has finally found the perfect home – complete with under-floor heating and bespoke granite worksurfaces – on Nintendo’s multipurpose marvel, the Nintendo Switch. Thanks to the console’s portability, touchscreen functionality, and, of course, Sparkle 2’s highly addicting gameplay, 10tons Ltd.’s most recent rendition of their bedazzling marble-shooter is one of the finest indie titles to grace the Nintendo Switch to date.
Sparkle 2 comes with four gameplay modes: Story Mode, Survival, Challenge, and Cataclysm. While each is resplendent with its own unique characteristics, mechanically they all share the same genetic gameplay code. The overall objective of the game is to eviscerate all marbles upon the screen before they reach a rather ominous gaping hole, a hole that I’m pretty sure leads straight into the clutches of Hades himself. To do so, you must shoot a variety of coloured marbles into an ever-encroaching line of marbles of the same colour. Match three or more of the same colour together and they vanish, buying you precious seconds as you scrabble to hold back the onslaught of pristinely polished orbs.
It’s a race against time, one that is a simply exhilarating to experience. As you progress through each mode, the difficulty being to ramp up. The once-steady marble match soon transforms into a frantic foray of pure desperation as you struggle to match the plethora of multicoloured marbles quick enough. Later levels require frequent retries, and often even the slightest misplay – such as wrongfully launching a blue orb into a mass of golden balls on the precipice of the hole – can spell certain doom. It’s, as I have said, a simplistic formula, yet I found myself loosing countless hours each night as I prolonged my inevitable slumber with just one more level.
Thankfully, the game rewards you for springing together combos, with every third match gifting you a much-needed power-up. These can range from simple fireballs that destroy one marble at a time to Matrix-like slowdown and even magical marble-bashing butterflies. On top of that, by progressing through the game’s story mode, you can acquire a variety to unique traits to buff your marble launcher. You can create some pretty powerful combinations – up to four slots can be unlocked – and choosing the right set-up is key to conquering those later levels. For the most part, they balance well with one another, yet I have found that certain trait combinations can be ridiculously overpowered once you get the ball rolling.
In order to control all of this marble madness, 10tons Ltd. have created two bespoke control systems. The first is via the Switch’s buttons and thumb sticks, a method of control that is, while functional, rather lacking in terms of fluidity and accuracy. Sparkle 2 requires the precise placement of marbles in order to effectively eradicate them all as a fast as possible, something the traditional stick and button controls on the Switch are unable to provide. Wresting the launcher around the screen is about as graceful an experience as trying a thread a needle which wearing boxing gloves – it’s possible, yet a lot of people are going to be accidentally punched in the process.
Thankfully, the touch controls are simply fantastic by comparison. Being able to tap on the point you want the marble and then see it gracefully glide into its newly designated cubbyhole is far more satisfying an experience than with the haphazard thumb sticks. This feeling is enhanced by the Switch’s 720p screen, which render the game’s maps and marbles beautifully. Colours pop and the musical score is simple a joy to listen to, even after 90+ story missions as well as countless others across the different gameplay modes. I will say that prolonged usage in touch mode caused my hands to cramp after a while – this is more the Switch’s design, however, than anything specific to the game.
All-in-all, Sparkle 2 has finally found its soulmate. The Switch is a great device for a game of its nature, despite its rather lacklustre slick and button controls. It’s one of those causal games that you just cannot bring yourself to out down, no matter what may be going on around you at the time. I cannot recommend Sparkle 2 enough, and I hope that more independent titles of its calibre make their way to the console over the foreseeable future.