At a glance...
|Matt Bailey||PS Vita||Beatshapers||Beatshapers||1|
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|Matt Bailey||PS Vita||Beatshapers||Beatshapers||1|
After such a strong launch line-up for Sony's new handheld, the PS Vita, we've actually entered a bit of a quiet phase with gamers clamoring for new games. Enter the downloadable titles, with Beatshapers stepping up as one of the first third-party developers to release a PSN-only game for the system. However, StarDrone Extreme isn't a completely new game, and is in fact a version of the PS3 game StarDrone which we reviewed rather favourably last year.
As in the PS3 version, StarDrone Extreme is a game that wants to give you a challenge. While I think it's fair to say that most games have, in general, become easier over the years, Beatshapers' cross between pinball and PixelJunk Eden joins the recent trend among indie games which encourages repeat play, expecting you to fail many times before a highly rewarding success is achieved. Your spaceship will bounce off walls, sometimes at tremendous speed, like in the steel ball arcade machines. However, you don't control the ship directly, instead using a grapple to cling on to various points and holding on to swing around until the right time to release. Sometimes it's just a simple tap to change direction, other times you'll be avoiding enemies or deadly obstacles. Sometimes you just need to figure out which direction to take next, because while a ship can gain and lose momentum, your travel is never-ending.
Each level has its own goal, which might be to activate all the stars in the map, or collect all the pieces to unlock an exit. Completing these in the shortest time is essential for competing on the online leaderboards, which are shared with the PS3 edition. Sometimes it's a bit too frustrating when the only way of making more progress is to learn the perfect route through a level and play again and again until you achieve a score you're satisfied with. Some levels, however, have more variation in approach, allowing for more interesting and unexpected leaderboard battles.
It's a curiously mixed bag of levels in terms of objects and the number of ways to conquer them, and the same is true of the difficulty. While the game is generally more on the challenging side, it does seem to struggle to balance this across the levels, despite improvements since the last version. While stages later in the game are generally more difficult, there are some which are surprisingly easy and some which are notoriously hard. To counter this Beatshapers have included an option in the menus to speed up and slow down gameplay, ranging from 1 to 10, as well as including a switch between Easy and Hard modes. This should help most people complete most levels, which unlike on the PS3 are unlocked one at a time. Immediately after failing a level, however, you can choose to skip it and proceed through the game. Controversially this skip feature was a 69p piece of DLC, but thankfully the charge has now been removed, although you'll still need to carry out a separate download from the PlayStation Store.
While you can skip, there's certainly an addictive nature here that will see you wanting to try and try again before succeeding or giving up. Dying takes you back to the start, so it would become overwhelmingly frustrating if the game wasn't as much fun as it is. Sure, it can be annoying to restart back to the beginning of a level each time, but StarDrone Extreme manages to draw on your inner sense of "I'm sure I could do it if I tried", resulting in a great sense of satisfaction when you do finally pull through. Beating your friends on either the Vita or the PS3 is an added incentive to keep going.
Originally a PlayStation Move-enabled game, StarDrone Extreme has made a good transition over to touch screen controls. In fact, it's entirely driven by the front screen, or if you switch it in the options, via the rear touch panel. It's a lot easier to accurately select the correct grapple point when you can put your finger on it, although needing to put your hand in the way of the action can become an issue in some of the more frantic sections where visibility is key. However, I felt that failures were more likely to be my own mistakes than any particular issues with the control method.
One welcome change in the move to Vita is the improved presentation. On the PS3 it felt a little dated and navigating the interface could be confusing, but on the Vita everything is driven by by touch, with nice big hexagons to tap on. Pleasingly, the wonderful little bit of audio you get when you successfully complete a level remains intact. Levels are now split on the menus into five sections with twelve stages in each. Most of these are the same levels we've seen before, but there's also a few exclusives. Progress can be shared between the PS3 and Vita versions thanks to Cloud Saving, with a recent update adding support into the PS3 version. It's not as smooth as the background syncing in Motorstorm RC, requiring you to manually load and save to Beatshapers servers via the Options menu, but as they are providing the infrastructure themselves it seems likely they wanted to avoid a lot of activity overloading their systems. It does, however, work well and quickly, and it's nice to bring your successes on the move back to the living room.
While the difficulty spikes may slightly undermine its appeal to a wider audience, StarDrone Extreme is still a very enjoyable and largely unique game with a clever mix of pinball and PixelJunk Eden-like mechanics. It has translated well to the touch screen of the Vita, and the extra levels and the ability to sync progress between PS3 and Vita versions are welcome additions. At £3.99 it's certainly one to check out, especially now the console version comes free too.
|Overall||Like the PS3 original, Stardrone Extreme can be challenging, but it's also addictive and enjoyable. It's a great PSN exclusive with interesting ideas that translate well to the PS Vita and its touch screens.||8/10|