The Stars My Destination
StarDrone Extreme is the kind of game that needs little explanation. It’s a casual, puzzled based game designed to while away the minutes on a commute to work or school. It might not be the sort of thing that’s going to push the Vita to it the edge of its performance envelope, but in many ways, it’s the kind of game that portables were meant to handle; quick, easy, with no commitment involved.
Point & Fly
Because of the puzzle nature of Stardrone, there isn’t any story to worry about, just a concept. In the simplest possible sense, Stardrone is an obstacle course. Laid out across each of the 60 levels is a series of stars. Using the touch screen, players send a ball hurtling out into space subject to the laws of physics. By touching certain points on the level, a “gravity well” of sorts is instantly created that captures the ball in its field of influence, creating a circular orbit. All the player has to do is stop touching these points and the ball once again sails off into space in whatever direction it happened to be traveling during its orbit. Completing levels requires the player to get the ball to run over—and consequently light up—every star in the level. Once that’s done, it’s onto the next.
Of course, this being a puzzle game, “Run over all the stars in the level” is a lot easier than it sounds, especially with Newtonian physics and its good friend, inertia watching over the proceedings. This isn’t necessarily a puzzle game of twitchy reflexes in the vein of Tetris but more an understanding of momentum, like Angry Birds. Players must cultivate a sense of how trajectory works, learning to predict how the orbit of their ball will react once it’s been released. As more levels are cleared, more gimmicks and/or features are added to the landscape that complicate things, like walls that act as rail guns, accelerating the ball’s movement when it makes contact, or pods that explode on contact and send the ball hurtling in the exact opposite direction it was originally traveling. And of course, because this a puzzle game set in space, there’s no actual border to the levels, so when you go sailing clear out of the field of play, a black hole appears that sucks your ball into oblivion and you need to start again. The interface is entirely through the touch-screens, with an option to use the front or rear depending on your taste. The rear screen actually works competently, though it will require practice to get over not being able to see exactly where your finger is going, something the game assists with anyway.
Stardrone is a competently made puzzler that has a reasonable difficulty curve and safely achieves the goal of being a decent time-waster while sitting on a bus or train. It is not, however, the be-all, end-all of puzzle games. Tetris is a classic for a reason, and Angry Birds manages to retain its hold on people because it adheres to the same philosophy of keeping things simple. Stardrone forgoes some simplicity for the sake of variety, and while it’s good to see the levels providing some different challenges, things can also get pretty elaborate, perhaps even confusing, as the ball is sent hurtling off into increasingly more labyrinthine levels. It’s not a problem that will ever kill the game’s inherent fun, but neither does this increasing complexity necessarily encourage that “one more try,” mindset that Tetris nailed with is single-minded obsession in fitting blocks together.
Ultimately, Stardrone Extreme, especially at the very reasonable price of four dollars, is a decent little puzzle game. It might suffer from being slightly over designed in terms of its growing complexity, but it’s fun, fiendish and a good way to kill a few minutes.