Sparkle Unleashed offers plenty to players but never rises above the crowded match three genre.
You have access to various powers as you progress through the large, stage-ridden map that makes up the main mode, as well as over a dozen endless maps that will test your color coding skills. However, soon the stages will begin to all look like the same set of five, and the plot offered is rather generic.
At its core, Sparkle Unleashed is simply a match three game. Each level begins with a set of orbs of mismatched colors making its way towards your hole.
The player is given two orbs that can be interchanged in order to shoot at the encroaching line, attempting to match three colors to eliminate them and create rapid combinations that will offer power ups for destroying lines easily.
You are locked at the bottom of the screen, moving left to right and lining up your shots with lines of orbs that slowly make their way towards you.
Thankfully by tapping “Y” on the Xbox One, you can bring up an indicator that helps you line up shots. You can also press “B” to switch between the two orbs currently on hand in case the one in reserve is what you need.
With 107 levels to play through in the main mode, and two additional difficulty levels that only unlock after you have beaten the preceding one, you could potentially spend a lot of time in Sparkle Unleashed.
Throughout these levels you will progress through what the game attempts to call a “story.” The campaign has a scattered assortment of single frame cutscenes and a line of dialogue. Each voiced caption describes a landmark on the map, but is forgettable and generic.
All you need to know is that you are tasked with expelling the darkness in a forested area, lighting braziers with every set of levels you complete.
Each brazier you light also rewards you with an unlock that makes eliminating orbs easier. This sets up a goalpost oriented playthrough where you can easily bookmark progress, or determine how much more you want to play.
I liked how spread out the braziers were, and how as you moved further into the forest they would become farther apart, making reaching one much more satisfying.
The power ups available range from pushing lines backwards, to destroying all orbs in an area of effect blast, to unleashing butterflies that will seek out patterns and transform them into easily combined matches. There are six power ups in total, each with three levels.
Once you have beaten the story mode, you will unlock hard mode, which places you back at stage one but does allow you to keep all your powers. The difficulty bump results in the latter game challenge showing up earlier, but not much else. By the time you’ve gotten halfway through the game, you will have already seen everything it had to offer, which is disappointing.
Eliminating lines can frequently prove to be very difficult. You begin with a limited assortment of colors, but those are quickly joined by additional tones, rocks that require an adjacent match to break, and chained orbs that require two matches to be disposed.
A good amount of maps required several tries before I could overcome the seemingly endless barrage of orbs. I would be midway through eradicating a line when another sped onto the premises. This challenge never pushed me over the edge, and I liked that I wasn’t simply steamrolling through stages.
Another difficulty is timing your shot so once it reaches the line it is added to the correct position for a match, as the curves of the road and other lines can cause your orb to split a potential match.
There are three types of maps: those that task the player to eliminate a finite number of lines, surviving for a specified amount of time, and an endless mode where higher combos and lasting for as long as possible are rewarded with stars.
In the latter type, each star rewarded plays into a pool, which will unlock harder endless maps to partake in. The two former types are what make up the main story mode, and often include maps with two roads.
Each road has their own line of orbs to eliminate, and sometimes the orbs will criss cross or enter a tunnel that renders them untouchable. Beyond this there is not much variety to the maps and I frequently questioned if the level I was currently playing was not just a slightly re-tuned version of an earlier one.
A lack of variety also calls to attention one of Sparkle Unleashed‘s other missteps, which is that it never rises above being a serviceable entry in the match three genre. The limited choice given to which powers you want to have active are novel, but not enough to make the game recommendable.
I enjoyed my time with the game, approximately 12 hours, and the frequent challenge offered by both story levels and endless maps kept pushing me to improve my reaction time. Nevertheless, it is held back by repetition in both stage layout and gameplay, as by the end most of the stages just blended together.
I was left wishing that it had done more, instead of repeating its few gameplay challenges again and again.