About a year ago, Beatshapers released a game to the Playstation Network that was met with moderate but critical reviews throughout the gaming press. Titled StarDrone, this physics based puzzle-action game was a fun but shallow title that, once played, was likely forgotten.
Enter StarDrone Extreme. This update of the PS3 version proves that the Vita can not only adequately run a respectable port of a PS3 PSN title, it can create a markedly better experience thanks to its unique features.
Boasting all of the content of the original title, cross-platform play, and what might be the best utilization of the rear touch pad yet, StarDrone Extreme proves it has the capacity to be a success. The question is, does the gameplay hold up to Extreme’s initial impressions?
Let me get this out of the way first: the demo for this game does not do it justice. The first few levels it provides are good examples of how to play, but rarely do they exemplify just how brilliant the game can be. That said, let’s continue.
The game essentially sees you controlling a spacecraft over dazzling space-fields littered with enemies, objects and collectables. Levels see you off by launching into a direction of your choice, and the goal of the level- displayed before the level- is then pursued, whether that be collecting all of the shards of stars, collecting a scattered assortment of shapes and bringing them to their rightful position, simply reaching a goal, and more.
The game’s main gimmick comes in the form of an ever-moving ship: you either hit something to change direction, or use your finger to lasso onto a gravity tether of sorts which will then cause you to spin around and launch in a direction of your choosing.
The controls are, at first, a bit confusing. There’s no real explanation of what to do, even though it’s a simple concept. However, once it clicks in, you’ll find yourself hitting a groove that’s so satisfying it may leave you in a trance on some levels. And, like mentioned above, the rear touchpad controls are heavenly. The best way to describe this is referring you to an iPhone game, where your fat greasy fingers get in the way of the screen and piss you off endlessly. That’s over and done with here, as the rear touchpad works wonderfully and provides tracking feedback on the front screen so you know exactly where your finger is, a problem other games utilizing the feature have.
Still, some levels are just too packed with things going on and objects to grab onto to keep up the cohesive controls. I’ve found myself infuriated more than once by running into an enemy on accident due to the gravity lasso magically reaching somewhere I didn’t touch on the screen. It’s not a game breaking issue, but it gets in the way, especially later on in the game.
That “groove-trance” I mentioned earlier? The graphics help with this, too. While not much has seemingly improved over the PS3 original, the OLED screen does wonders for this game. That’s said about a lot of games; try the demo out and see why I really mean this. Some sections of levels pulse and sway to the (extremely catchy) music, to the point where they literally bounce off the screen. Not quite as impressive as the 3DS’ screen, obviously, it still conveys some interesting effects to the player. The new interface, from the menus to the overlay and radar while playing the game, are beautiful additions that fit the overall slickness of the game well, instead of being clunky and bare-boned.
Content-wise, this game is somewhat lacking. While the title boasts all the levels of the original and some nifty additions for the Vita that really utilize its exclusive features, it is relatively short; however, the replay value of StarDrone Extreme is that much higher due to portability. While it felt hollow and simplistic on the PS3, it fits portable play like a glove. Since the level design remains amazingly solid through to the end, it wouldn’t surprise me if I found myself crawling back to some of the more exhilarating levels once or twice a day, on the bus, on the can, etc.
Of note is a piece of DLC that, after purchased for a dollar, lets you skip a challenging level. It works endlessly after bought, but seems a bit jarring to see it placed so prominently on the game’s livearea screen. Still, although the levels occasionally get excruciatingly challenging later on, it’s completely unnecessary for a competent player.
The cross play feature, while relatively useless for most, is nice to have if you own the PS3 version. It’d be nicer if it was as slick as other games that utilize the feature, but since you only need to hit a tucked-away button in the game’s menu, I can’t complain. One great benefit of this system is the use of shared scoreboards. If you’re a scorewhore, you’re in good company, as you can continue to gain a higher foothold on the leaderboards on the go.
In the end, StarDrone Extreme can walk away unabashedly. What Extreme comes down to is an extremely engaging, smart title with a few minor flaws degrading the experience. Still, it shows that the developers learned how to utilize the Vita in a way that makes the original obsolete, and simply put, more fun. Launching at a price of $3.99 and offering a lot more value than the price implies, this may be the perfect game to fill the gaps between this current Vita drought. The controls are stellar, the graphics are capable, the extra content is welcome, and if you don’t become enamored with the music (go beat a level and tell me you’re brain wasn’t just possessed), well, turn the sound off and enjoy what will amount to a solid addition to your Vita.
One last thing: get a good set of headphones, and set the speed up all the way. You’ll thank me.
Final Score: B+
- StarDrone goes Extreme on the Vita this Tuesday