Review: Stardrone Extreme (PSV)

Title: Stardrone Extreme
Format: PlayStation Network Download (136 MB)
Release Date: April 17, 2012 (US), April 11, 2012 (UK)
Publisher: Beatshapers
Developer: Beatshapers
Original MSRP: $3.99 (US), £3.19 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E
Stardrone Extreme is exclusive to the PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation Network download version was used for this review.

Writing a review for Stardrone is a strange task, to say the very least. Why? Because nobody knows what it is. I couldn’t tell you what genre this falls in to, nor could I say it’s similar to any other game. Just as with the hosts on the past show, I don’t really know how to describe it; other than a spacey-starry-pinbally-physicsy-puzzley-latchy-shooty-thingy.

Gameplay:
This sense of ambiguity is amplified as soon as you start the game for the first time, because you’re told nothing. There’s no tutorial, no purpose or theme; you’re just plunged straight into the first level.

So what do you do? Well, much like what people encounter with the Vita in general, you immediately touch the screen rather than mash the buttons. You see a launcher start turning depending on where your finger is touching the screen. Once you let go of the screen, a little drone flies out and begins to move independently in space. You have no obvious control of it as it just floats off toward a goal.

Soon though, you’ll find ways of redirecting your drone to the required destination. Luckily, you are given a brief explanation (one sentence) on how to use these things, as well as how to tackle different types of levels, which I’ll get on to shortly. The main way to actually control the drone is by latching on to these ‘spinners’ which are commonplace throughout every level.

There are a few more facets to the gameplay which ramp things up (such as explosive enemies) but I won’t go through them one by one. The fact is, each new addition is gradually added and you will be able to overcome each obstacle or utilise each new ability naturally. Stardrone has a certain charm to it, which allows you to easily pick up and play, learning organically without sitting through tutorials.

Personally I like the premise of the game – there’s something to be said for that childlike approach of trial and error. This obviously brings with it huge frustration followed by moments of pleasure and accomplishment; which is what gaming is all about.

As mentioned previously, there are a various level types, which manage to prevent the experience becoming too samey. The most common levels are where you light up stars, but there are also ones that involve collecting gem pieces to fill a template, and finding keys to gates. They manage to mix up the gameplay well and it’s probably just the right amount of variety for a game of this size.

On the control side of things, Stardrone uses touch controls exclusively – another aspect of the game that makes it feel like it should be on a smartphone. There is the option of using either the screen or the rear touchpad, which is a nice touch, but there are downsides to both. If you use the front, you’re obviously obscuring the view somewhat, whilst the rear seems quite unresponsive and harder to accurately get to grips with.

Another small gripe is that the physics are a little hit and miss overall. Okay, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be hugely advanced, but it should be a little less random than what it is. Very inconsistent indeed. As well as that, the bigger levels can become quite boring due to the traveling time.

However, these minor weaknesses don’t stop Stardrone from being an enjoyable game. The scoring system has been implemented well, with the medals being awarded for fair timeframes. The difficulty doesn’t ramp up so much that the game becomes impossible, but at the same time, it does pose some challenge. The puzzle element of Stardrone isn’t overly taxing, but it provides enough to prevent it becoming mindless.

Lastly, I think it’s commendable that Beatshapers have included an option to change the speed of your drone at any time from the pause menu. It presents an added sense of customisability so that you can choose to have a fast and furious, or slow and methodical experience. In fact, you may find you want to alter the speed on a level-to-level basis, depending on the objectives or obstacles that are given.

Visuals:
Although not the best looking Vita game, Stardrone is definitely passable and at times praiseworthy in the visual department. As you’d expect, the game is in space, and there’s only so much you can do with that starry backdrop. Beatshapers have tried their best to make it quite colourful and interesting though, with contrasting gem pieces and objects, with some red-hot enemies to brighten up the action. On a more functional note, the camera is just about perfect.

In the bottom left of the screen, there’s a map of the course and where the stars are. On there, you can see vaguely where your remaining targets are, but because of the screen size and the quantity of little dots, you’ll have to squint. Perhaps they could have got over this issue by allowing you to zoom in by tapping it. I do like the map though – it’s imperative in some levels as there can be a few hundred stars to collect and you can easily miss a few.

Stardrone’s HUD is very simple and clean. Your score, time, and health are visible in white text at all times, along the top of the screen. As for the menus, they are presented hexagonally in a honey-comb style. All the icons are big enough so moving between the menus is a breeze.

Audio:
In a word, annoying, and that’s a very kind way of putting it. The music is horrible; when you’re in a level it sounds like something off one of those really serious and tense, cheap game shows. The sound effects are also below par. To be honest though, the audio wasn’t a problem at all for me – the reason being it’s not exactly needed. I played this like I would play any game on iOS; listening to podcasts or music.

Online/Multiplayer:
Stardrone presents online leaderboards, which allow for a nice score-chasing competition with friends. However, I have found that it usually takes a long while for your score to update. If you press the PS Home button to view the live area, you will see an up-to-date score, but when you view the online leaderboard in-game, it seems to be a few hours old. Also, the ‘time played’ column seems to be incorrect too. The only other online feature is the cloud saving. It works pretty well, with the whole process of going from the main menu to actually completing the save, only taking a couple of seconds.

Conclusion:
It’s quite difficult to grade this game, and that’s simply down to the shifted dynamics of the games market. Stardrone has all the hallmarks of an iOS game, but even though it’s relatively cheap, it’s not priced like an iOS game. Now that may sound churlish, but it is how these types of games are judged these days, and we all know there are better games available for a fifth of Stardrone’s price tag.

However, if you decide to ignore that and look at it solely as a PSN title, Stardrone is very good. It offers fun gameplay, a nice variation of levels, and great accessibility. If your region offers a demo for this, definitely try that first, because Stardrone is a game you can’t fully understand without trying for yourself. It may take some time to grab you (indeed, I would have given it an E grade after the first 20 minutes), but after a while, most gamers will recognise Stardrone as a worthy addition to their Vita library.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

Written by Raj Mahil

Raj Mahil

Game collector. Journalism graduate. Batman addict. Movie goer. WWE nut. Sports obsessive. Arsenal fan. Squawka.com Sub-Editor.

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