StarDrone Extreme is a wicked little action-puzzler from Beatshapers, who just seem to keep bringing out more and more PS Minis and PS Vita versions of very addictive, inexpensive games. There's enough challenge in this slick, bright title to keep a hardcore gamer busy for quite some time, while less experienced folks will find it engaging enough to keep trying even when it gets tough.Title: StarDrone Extreme
Developer: Beatshapers and Orb Games
Date: April 2012
Format: PS Vita
Rating: ESRB E (Everyone), PEGI 3+
Other Platforms: PS3
Light 'Em Up
The goal of StarDrone Extreme (earlier working title: StarDrone Extended) is to make it through each level with the highest possible score, but the actual objective for each level is different. Gameplay is simple: you have to navigate a drone by firing it from a ship and using tractor beams stationed throughout the level. Everything can be controlled with a single finger on the touchscreen, but "control" is a bit of a misnomer, as once you fire your drone, it behaves according to the physics of the game, bouncing off of obstacles and careening away. You have to be quick with your finger on the tractor beams to hope to keep the drone in check.
All of the levels have transparent stars scattered throughout, and moving across them lights them up. Light up enough in a row, and you'll get super powers of a sort, that let you bash through enemies and obstacles without taking damage. In some levels, your objective is to light up all the stars; in others, you have to collect a string of gems and deliver them to the end point. For the toughest levels, you just have to get to the end and not explode on a mine, enemy, or explosive barrier along the way.
This variety in the aims of levels helps keep the game feeling fresh and new, even though the look of the levels isn't that different. And though there is really only a handful of different types of objectives, they get more difficult in different ways--some become more maze-like or more complicated, others have more enemies or fewer tractor beams or more pinball-like bouncing around.
And while the overall design style doesn't change from level to level, it's very well done so it never feels dull. There's a lot of flash--lighting up stars, exploding mines, rainbows when you complete a level--but it never feels like it's covering up for a lack of substance. The game, though simple as a good puzzle game should be, feels complete, well thought-out, and thoroughly tested.
Speaking Of Tests
Though I love puzzle games of all types, I've never been especially good at arcade games. I prefer to take my time and think things through, and arcade-action games don't tend to give you any time for thought at all. So I certainly wasn't brilliant at StarDrone Extreme. But I kept going back to it anyway, and I even played the same level over and over more than 20 times straight to get through it. Because there's something about the high polish of this title that makes it a joy to play, even when you're dying. (And incidentally, if you die and replay a level 20 times in a row, you earn a trophy. Appropriately, it's called "Epic Fail," and I have one.)
Strangely, though the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly after the first ten or twelve levels, and death comes more and more often, it never felt frustrating. Perhaps it's because the fiery deaths, or the deaths-by-black-hole, never felt cheap. I never got the impression that lousy controls made me fail. The fact that it was my own timing that was lacking, and that by getting better at the game I could progress, somehow made having to do the same level yet again feel fun instead of annoying.
Time Is Running Out
One really nice feature in StarDrone Extreme is that as long as you get through the level, you can move on to the next level. Each one has a . . . well not a time-limit, but a time to aim for. If you beat the time, you get a trophy and more points. If you don't beat the time, but still meet the objectives of the level, you can continue to the next level, just with fewer points. If you really must beat the time and score the rewards, you can replay each level right from the between-levels screen. And of course you can always go back later to replay any of the levels you've unlocked.
So bottom line, even though this isn't my preferred slow-and-steady type of puzzler, when it comes time to make a "Top Puzzle Games for PS Vita" list as a companion to my Top Puzzle Games for PSP list, StarDrone Extreme will almost certainly be on it.