Matching marbles goes way back. Back to a time before Microsoft had even dreamt up the original Xbox and to a time when Sony were just about getting on the ladder with their Playstation. It was a time when gamers were easily pleased and begging to be hit with something more addictive and taxing rather than the visually spectacular set piece master strokes we expect now in 2015.
But whilst the genre has had a bit of a renaissance in recent years due to the popularity of mobile gaming, console gamers have looked to the more intense stuff for their gaming kicks. However, with the Xbox 360 keeping the genre half alive with the likes of Luxor and Zuma (and then being treated to the marvelous Zuma’s Revenge), there has always been a small hole in the Xbox One’s library that needed filling.
Sparkle Unleashed fills that hole superbly. In fact, it positively overflows from the hole and spreads its wares further than required.
I make no bones about this. I love Sparkle Unleashed.
Admittedly, I was always championing the Zuma cause whenever someone needed a quick hit ‘five minute’ time-waster on Xbox 360, and so was always going to like what 10tons have brought us; but I really didn’t think it would take over my recent life in the way it has.
For those not in the know, Sparkle Unleashed throws a huge number of marbles down a track and requires you to fire further balls off with your ‘orb-slinger’ in an attempt to match three of the same colour and see those ones removed from the field of play. Remove all the marbles and you win the level. It’s as easy as that! A ‘pusher’ moves the balls along the track at a decent rate and you’ll need to either clear the screen of eight loads of balls or survive without the screen filling up for anything up to 120 seconds in order to complete the level. Controls are of the simplest kind, moving your graceful slinger along the bottom of the screen with the left or right stick, firing the balls with your A button and switching to your secondary colour shot with B. A guide lightswitched on and off with Y ensures that if you are finding things too difficult, then your shots should be near on inch perfect everytime. You really can’t get any simpler than that and it is a great game to get family or friends who are not usually gamers involved with.
The trickiness comes in with the introduction of multiple ball paths working towards the exits at the same time. Whilst some cleverly designed tracks ensure that unless you’re the sharpest of shooters, much of the track in hand, and indeed the marbles you can match, are hidden behind others. You’ll need to be quick in firing your slinger or have nerves of steel as while things start off pretty easily with only a few colours and simple tracks to worry about, it doesn’t take long for extra colours to join the party as the tracks get more and more twisted. Throw in the inclusion of chained orbs which require a couple of attempts to remove and rock orbs that need you to remove everything either side of them first and you’ll quickly find out why Unleashed has such an addictive nature.
To help you on your way, 10tons have included a power-up system that is great fun to use. As you progress your way through the story campaign (yes, marble matching needs a story too!), you’ll slowly find yourself unlocking up to 18 different power ups. You can, at any one time, have six of these in play and how you choose to combine your powers is, to a certain extent, up to you. Whether you feel the need to make the most of the ever helpful fluttering butterflies that whisk their way around the tracks, removing those marbles nearest the end or decide to unleash the full power of Sparkle with some huge atomic bombs is up to you. However, you’ll need to make sure that whenever the specials become available, you make the most of them because without their help, you’ll struggle to complete some of the latter stages.
And you’ll most definitely not stand a chance when attempting the harder nightmare difficulty.
Once you’re done with the 108 stages on offer (and the ramp up in difficulty has just about tested your patience), then the 21 special survival challenges that 10tons have included are a great addition. Initially only a couple of stages are open for you to try your hand at, but give it a go at attempting to last for as long as possible before the never ending stream of balls overpowers you, and you’ll find yourself earning up to five stars on each stage and being able to unlock further, harder challenges. These extra levels ensure that even once you’re done with the main campaign, Sparkle Unleashed will be sitting there ready and waiting for you to drop the odd ten minute session on for months to come.
There hasn’t been a single game so far in 2015 that has gripped me and urged me on more than Sparkle Unleashed. Due to its highly addictive nature, gloriously simple yet never overly frustrating gameplay and sheer number of levels and challenges available to play, it has been my go-to game for whenever I need to kill five minutes. Or half hour. Or even an hour or so. I’m also very impressed to see 10tons include a full on ‘colourblind assist’ mode for those who would normally struggle with such a game. Adding swirls and patterns to each of the marbles may confuse things for someone who doesn’t have colour issues, but for those who need a hand distinguishing between the marbles, it’s a great help.
Okay, so occasionally the precision needed to sling a marble into an exact spot gets a little tough and annoys – this is especially true when two paths of spheres crossover – and I would have loved to have seen some form of multiplayer included; whether that be in the form of some basic leaderboards, cooperative or versus play, but other than that, I’m seriously struggling to find anything I don’t like about Sparkle Unleashed. So much so that if the multiplayer issues weren’t present, then I’d be looking at giving 10tons top marks for their Xbox One debut title. No matter how hard you try, if you start getting engrossed in Unleashed, then it’s going to take you some time get away again. It is that good.
Matching marbles goes way back, but I’m pretty certain Sparkle Unleashed is right up there with the very best sphere smashing efforts.