10tons’ action-puzzler Sparkle 2 might be old news to PC and PlayStation 4 owners, having been available since 2014, but finally Xbox One owners can get in on the frenetic and addictive action as it hits the Xbox Store today. Yay! (Yes, that’s a genuine “yay”; I’m not being sardonic in any way. Honest.)
To put it quite bluntly: Sparkle 2 is as addictive as crack. Or at least that’s how the saying goes; having never tried crack I couldn’t possibly speak from experience, but I’ve heard it’s meant to be rather addictive. Just like Sparkle 2. I imagine it’s probably called “sparkle” as a homage to all those people with short attention spans who quickly get distracted by…. ooh, shiny things! Because, yeah… without a doubt, Sparkle 2 is going to distract you from all those important and urgent tasks you’ve got to do because it’s just so damn addictive.
The downside to Sparkle 2 is that it’s basically a clone of the classic Zuma… but since Zuma used to be so much fun to play, I’m willing to let the obvious ripping-off slide and just be grateful for more Zuma-like action. If for some reason you’re not familiar with the gameplay of Zuma (in which case, sort yourself out. Seriously.), it’s a very simple puzzle/action game involving matching and popping colourful bubbles in groups of three or more. It’s kind of like Puzzle Bobble but instead of the bubbles being at the top of your screen, they form a snake that moves around a track. The goal is to clear all the bubbles before they reach the pit of doom, in which case it’s game over, bucko. The last thing you want here is your balls to be falling down any holes.
Sparkle 2 uses the exact same gameplay as Zuma but paints over it with an enchanting veneer, throws in a story, adds some extra game modes and mixes things up with a whole host of power-ups to make the cathartic fun as action-packed and exciting as possible. And it really works. Okay, in all honesty I couldn’t have cared less about the story – something about needing to find keys to unlock something or other; I really wasn’t paying that much attention – but the cutscenes and overall visuals are rather impressive. To say that this started out life as a mobile game, you’d really have no idea. Everything is crisp and well-designed, and the audio is a treat to the ears too, with a rather grandiose magical-sounding score accompanying you on each level. It’s clear a lot of TLC has gone into sprucing up the console version of Sparkle 2 to make it, well… extra sparkly.
There’s so much content, too. The story mode has just shy of 100 levels to make your way through, with the difficulty gradually hotting up as you progress. Once you’ve finished your first playthrough of the story you can start all over again at a higher level – hard or expert if you wish, although having attempted and disgracefully failed level one on expert I’m quite sure you have to be a masochistic bubble popping maniac to be able to manage it. Aside from story mode, there’s also three extra game modes: Survival, Challenge and Cataclysm. Cataclysm is exclusive to the new Xbox One version and offers a series of more challenging levels once you’ve completed story mode. Survival mode is just like its name suggests: a mode of surviving as long as you can, to gain the best score (out of five stars) possible. Finally, challenge mode lets you play through a series of levels multiple times, ramping up the difficulty each time. You’ll unlock these three modes – along with various “enchantments” and power-ups – as you make your way through story mode.
Sparkle 2 isn’t going to be a game that you’re going to stay up all night playing, nor is it a game that you’ll call in sick to work for, but it is a game that you won’t be deleting from your hard drive any time soon. It’s the type of thing that you’ll dip into here and there; you’ll find yourself playing it instead of working on that pesky assignment, or blasting away at it instead of that mammoth pile of ironing (although really you should be doing anything but ironing). Sparkle 2 is a perfect example of a very simple idea done right. Sure, it’s not original, but it doesn’t matter when it’s this enjoyable. Ahem… it’s the most fun you can have with balls without taking your clothes off. Not that I’ve tried playing it without clothes, mind; it might just surprise me.