In a time where the eShop is flourishing, more than a dozen games are launching every week with no let up in sight, and prolific Finnish developer/ publisher 10tons continues its long run by bringing puzzle game Sparkle Unleashed to Nintendo Switch in time for the holiday season.
The premise is a simple one: in an attempt to save the world from darkness, you must destroy an ever increasing line of coloured orbs. Over the last seven years, there have been a fair few tweaks to the formula, but for all the voice acted narration telling the tales of enchanted kingdoms, magical powers and evil sweeping the lands, Sparkle Unleashed boils down to a match three shooter.
Your task is simple: rid the screen of all balls before an almighty gold pushing scoop drops them all down a black hole. Rather than being static and able to spin in 360 degrees like it's predecessor, Sparkle 2 (released on Switch in October), Unleashed enables you to move your mystical orb flinging cannon from left to right at the bottom of the screen. All you have to do is fire upwards towards orbs of corresponding colour, which are being continually pushed by that gold scoop. You can also toggle an aiming light on or off to make things easier, and swap the orbs at your disposal with the right shoulder button or B. Touchscreen support is also available, but isn't ideal as it obstructs the view. Connect more than three and they will vanish in a puff of smoke. Clear all of the orbs and it's level complete.
As you progress through your epic quest, the more gold scoops there are to remove. Missing combos will enable your snaking line of mystical spheres to get to close to the aforementioned black holes. Get too close and they will helplessly plummet to their doom in a black cloud of evil and... you'll have to start the level again. Honestly, if you are at all familiar with the series or the genre, particularly games such as Zuma (or '80's classics such as Ballistic), all the mystical vocabulary and words of wizardry and wonder won't detract from the fact that this is an incredibly derivative, if well produced match three tile game.
The stellar soundtrack could have been lifted straight from one of Tim Burton and Danny Elfman's many scores. From whimsical, jaunty tunes to rousing strings and horns when getting close to failure, the experience is akin to listening to a Lord Of The Rings soundtrack while doing a Sudoku. The game has a decent range of sound effects and lighting to make the experience more exciting.
Upon finishing a stage, you have your completion time and will fill a purple meter in your 'spell book like' journal, called a brazier. These braziers unlock special powers and abilities - such as a blast of frost that slows everything right down - add a bit of spice to proceedings, and are especially useful when things get a little more hectic. The further you go, the more braziers you will need to collect to unlock another power up.
To up the challenge, some of the levels contain multiple lines of balls for you to destroy, increasingly winding paths, bridges and hills to overcome. In addition, there are balls covered in chains which have to be hit twice and rocks that get in the way of making combos. There is also the odd intermittent stage which gives you a certain amount of time to survive the spherical onslaught in order to progress.
Despite there being multiple lines and black holes later on, things never really become impossible in terms of difficulty, but it is important to use everything at your disposal when you have the chance. The game boasts a wealth of statistics, 12 achievements and a survival mode with a five star ranking system to unlock more stages from the campaign. There's also a new, appropriately named Nightmare difficulty setting for those looking for that extra challenge.
If you've never jumped in to the enchanted world of Sparkle, this is as good a place as any to start. It's a polished, competent match three game with decent production, plenty of stages and addictive ball blasting action, even if it is very derivative and repetitive. For those familiar with the series or the genre as a whole, Sparkle unleashed is merely a slight variation on more of the same. With Sparkle 2 already out on Switch, as well as it being released for every other system in all the known kingdoms, Sparkle Unleashed is another solid, if unremarkable addition to the console's library.