StarDrone, the latest downloadable from Beatshapers, was something of a surprise. It seemed to land out of the blue, with little build up and even less fanfare, onto the PlayStation Network Store. It follows some reasonably solid releases from the Ukrainian studio in the form of Enigmo and BreakQuest so there is a certain pedigree for it to live up to.
Like all great puzzle games, StarDrone is deceptively complex and can be utterly compelling. It’s the sort of game that you can load up for a quick ten minute burst of play only to then spend a couple of hours trying to perfect techniques and beat high scores.[drop]The premise is simple, you must fire a drone into the level in a similar way to a pinball plunger. It will continuously drift in whatever direction it is cast until it meets some element of the level. In this regard, it’s very similar to a pinball game. There are even bumpers and rails in certain places as well as elements that rush you through sections like a pinball machine’s kicker pads and tracks might. Breakable rock fields and keycard-activated electric barriers further complicate matters too.
In addition to the elements that ape similar mechanisms from a pinball table, you have hubs placed around the levels which act as slingshots for your drone. You can grab the drone at any time it’s close to one of these hubs and it will immediately start swinging the tethered drone like a ball on a rope until you release the button and watch the drone fly away in whatever direction momentum carries it. This element of the game is the way you must direct the drone away from perils and towards the stars and gems you need to collect , areas you need to reach or enemies you need to kill in order to finish certain levels.
Each level is precisely designed and built so that it is usually reasonably easy to achieve the completion requirements and finish the level. Sometimes this means collecting all the stars, sometimes gathering up gems and returning them to fill a large star and sometimes you have to destroy all enemies or simply cross a finish line.
Completing a level is only part of the battle though. Each level has a target time which is incredibly tricky to meet. So you will find yourself trying to plot routes and perfect your timing in an effort to get closer to that target time. Naturally, your friends list’s high achievers are also listed for each level you encounter. This top ten leader board (as well as global leader boards) shows you what you’re aiming for to claim those bragging rights and, as ever, hold the potential for some heated competition.[drop2]Beatshapers are obviously confident in the mechanics of the game as once or twice, fairly early on, there are levels thrown at you which can easily become die-and-retry nightmares taking a dozen frustrated restarts to conquer. Stick with it, or level select to one of the later levels (you unlock a few ahead of your current level so this is always an option) and you’re back to some relatively easy levels. Often, success in the hardest levels felt more like a fluke than actual skill and even when we’d passed the level once, we couldn’t replicate that success later.
The game is also fully Move compatible and this control system completely changes the way it’s played. What is a fairly comfortable set of controls with a DualShock, similar to PixelJunk Eden crossed with a fairly a relaxed pinball game, becomes a nervous struggle for precision and expert timing as you use your Move wand like a laser pointer to direct an on screen cursor. Move support is a nice addition, and it certainly serves as an attractive way to show off the hardware, but ultimately it makes progression slightly too much of an endless struggle for pinpoint precision.
- Great visuals.
- Responsive controls, perfect for the interesting mechanics.
- Compelling gameplay.
- Move support makes the game a touch too difficult.
- Music sometimes seems to loop awkwardly.