Sparkle 2 Review
I don’t remember when or where I first found this game, or even when the idea of cashing in my “hardcore gamer cred” (which is totally a real thing) for lighthearted match-3 marble popping became something I was willing to do, but at some point in the past I stumbled on Sparkle 2 and fell head over heels for it. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a lot of my disdain for the mobile platform melted away as I played through it for the first time. There’s just something about the game’s music, simplicity, and difficulty curve that struck me as being superbly balanced and enjoyable, with the game constantly straddling that line between accessibility and challenge that so many other games seem to struggle with. What makes this so much more surprising is the fact that the first game sucked. It sucked a lot, in fact, and yet its sequel takes almost all of the same elements and builds something genuinely entertaining and worthwhile out of them.
Simple games are hard to cover
Writing 4,000 words is easy when it comes to mechanics-heavy RPGs and strategy games, but writing about something like Sparkle 2 is maddeningly difficult because of how simple the game is. Basically, marbles come at you on a track, you pop them all by creating matches of 3 or more before they fall into the hole at the end, and doing that for enough tracks ends the level. Then you repeat that 90 or so times and that’s the game. Problem is, saying that completely misses the core of what Sparkle 2 is and neglects all of the little details that make it superior to other such games, details that worm their way into your muscle memory so quickly you don’t even recognize them.
Take powerups, for example; every three consecutive matches create a powerup that can be hit with a marble, and their effects vary wildly. One can eliminate all marbles of a certain color. Another creates a group of fireflies that change some marbles’ colors in order to make matching easier. There’s also a ray that can destroy marbles in a given direction, an explosion that can be used to take out pockets of marbles, fireballs can rain from the sky and randomly destroy marbles, you can change groups to a certain color with a paint powerup, and so on. The interesting bit isn’t the powerups themselves, however, but how quickly you learn to effectively use them.
Since you create these helpful (and often crucial) powerups after several consecutive matches, making every match you see as soon as you see it isn’t always the smartest way to play. Instead, the early levels move slow enough that you can take your time and focus on creating groups of two before focusing on actually removing anything. After the subsequent matching, powerups can be used to remove anything left over, and it’s something you learn without it ever being pointed out to you because of how imperceptible the rising difficulty often manages to be; early levels start out incredibly easy, and once you get to the 60s they still feel a bit on the easy side until you go back and realize that these levels move much faster and include more colors.
Let’s talk about why this is better than the first game
My review of the original Sparkle was merciless, but I stand by everything I said about it. I even went back and reinstalled it just to see if it’s as bad as I remembered, and jumping between Sparkle 1 and 2, it becomes painfully apparent just how superior the second game is in every way, shape, and form. The most immediately apparent difference is that the first game relies on an annoying “lives” system that forces you to replay chunks of levels if you lose them all, and even resets all of your progress if you don’t choose the right option on the menu that pops up afterward. That is, after all, what happened to me and the reason why I’ve still never beaten the first game. The second game learned from this disastrously half-baked lives system and does away with it altogether; rather than lives, the greatest penalty you face is having to start a single level over again, and this helps it to avoid the needless frustration the first game was so prone to creating.
Another big change is how zoomed in the camera is compared to the first game. Where before you were shooting tiny little spheres that ensured that aiming was a hassle (especially on a phone or tablet screen), now everything is big enough for your shots to feel much more accurate rather than constantly having to thread the needle and sneak marbles into frustratingly tight groups from far away. The larger size of everything also makes it easier to keep track of where everything is, ensuring that things never become overwhelming, and that’s just the beginning of the second game’s improvements. For example, touching the screen doesn’t automatically fire a marble like in the first game, but instead allows you to aim, only actually firing once you let go of the screen. This is obviously a small change, but it makes the gameplay feel much more natural and accurate and introduces an element of careful timing that was largely missing from the first Sparkle.
Every change like that has been to the betterment of the game. Even the story, which is largely the same type of placeholder non-story found in the first game, is elevated by the periodic voice acting and an introduction that explains what you’re doing and why. It’s the little touches like this that end up making a huge impact and keeping Sparkle 2 from becoming a lifeless series of levels like the first game.
The graphics are a huge step up from the first
Before I get to the graphics, though, I want to talk about the music a little. The music was one of the few things I couldn’t criticize about the first game, and the music here is of an even higher quality. It repeats quite a bit throughout the levels, to be fair, but it has so much personality to it that I never really minded. In a lot of ways it’s reminiscent of Detective Grimoire’s soundtrack, if only because it captures a similar sense of grand adventure that I found impossible to resist. The graphics manage to be an even bigger leap from the first game, which wasn’t exactly ugly to begin with; where the first game focused on metallic tracks and twisting levels, Sparkle 2 has more of an outdoorsy aesthetic that manages to be unexpectedly pretty, and all of the art looks like it was created at a higher resolution, making it noticeably sharper.