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StarDrone Extreme (PS Vita) – The PS3 Attitude Review

Submitted by on Sunday, 22 April 2012One Comment

Chances are you missed StarDrone when it slipped quietly on to the PS Store in March last year. It’s now lost somewhere in the store’s labyrinth of menus alongside other missing low-priced puzzle games.

You can easily dismiss Drone as just another twin-stick shooter in the same vein as the fine Super Stardust, if you only give it a brief superficial glance. But that’s not how it plays – not even close. Your ship doesn’t have guns; it doesn’t even have a propulsion system.

The ship manoeuvres through Drone’s 60 levels by latching on to and then swinging from nearby gravity beacons. Effectively it’s Tarzan in space, albeit featuring a Tarzan who’s ditched his Jane, loincloth and jungle in favour of a jaunt across the sparkling cosmic universe to light up stars.

Levels vary in length from roughly 30sec to five minutes, during which you have to do one of the following: collect star fragments, light up every star on the level, navigate through a tricky layout unscathed or defeat all enemies by bouncing into them – but only after you’ve boosted your ship’s shield by collecting stars. It’s fairly straightforward once you get past the peculiar mechanics.

The crucial thing to remember is that your ship is vulnerable to many objects, particularly when its shield isn’t charged. Therefore, you must stay in constant motion, always finding the next beacon and avoiding those spikey walls and deadly aliens. You can slide along some walls and bounce off pinball-style bells, and both approaches play an important role, because a large part of the puzzle gameplay is you using the environment to get to hard-to-reach areas.

Drone’s concept is interesting but the PS3 version was dogged by a few issues. Using the DualShock to latch on to beacons was tricky ­– often you found yourself latching on to the wrong one. It was however more reliable to use PS Move as a pointer.

StarDrone Gameplay PS Vita

It had other problems too, most notably it was a slow starter and brutally hard. It also looked a little out of place on a big TV – a problem it shares with many PSN games.

You’re probably thinking stop talking about the PS3 version and tell me about the PS Vita version. Well, I am actually. The PS Vita version is almost identical to its big brother. It does however have some of its own features and it improves on some of the issues listed above.

The controls stand out as the obvious difference. Rather than clumsily working with a DualShock or the better (but still not perfect) PS Move, you use PS Vita’s front or rear touch screens. This allows for a more tactile experience and a more enjoyable one to boot.

The front screen in particular makes you feel in total control. The rear panel is also good but because it’s an unfamiliar interface it can take some getting used. Often you find your fingers groping around in areas they shouldn’t, always a sure fire way to find yourself in trouble.

Beatshapers has also created new levels and revamped some older ones based on user feedback. However, while big fans of the PS3 version may notice the differences, most probably won’t.

Drone on PS Vita is better looking than on PS3; its colours are more vibrant and its stars sparkle more. The ugly PS3 menu system has also been replaced for one which is easier on the eye. Overall, Drone definitely looks a better fit on PS Vita’s 5” OLED screen than it ever did on a 37” TV.

The difficulty spikes that blighted Drone on PS3 are less of an issue now too thanks to a new easy setting, in addition to the options for scaling the gameplay speeds from steady and slow to bewilderingly fast. Now you can play at whatever level you feel comfortable. The more challenging the level the more points you gain, so there is still an incentive to go back and up the difficulty.

Pleasingly, Drone offers Cross Play between the PS3 and PS Vita versions. This basically means you can send your save to the cloud from one platform and then carry on where you left off on the other. More good news: StarDrone and StarDrone Extreme have separate trophy lists (despite them being identical), so if you win a trophy on PS Vita and transfer your file to your PS3, you will unlock the PS3 trophy as well.

Aside from these welcome additions, Drone on PS Vita is still largely the same game as on PS3, so it makes you wonder where the “Extreme” came from. It’s sensible to stay away if you felt burnt by the PS3 version or simply grew tired of it, but picking up StarDrone Extreme is a no-brainer if you’re a fan of Beatshapers intergalactic swinging antics.

As is the case with all games of this kind, you need to put in a bit of work to enjoy it; the more work you put in the better it is. Its one mechanic can get repetitive and its gameplay is slow and awkward for the first 10 or so levels, but you will also be marvelling at the smoothness and elegance of the gameplay by the time you reach level 60. Some of the level designs later in the game are simply genius.

We’re not sure how many people have the patience to stick with it until it gets to that point, which is a shame because more could have been done to add a bit more flair to Drone’s earlier stages. But at £3.19/$3.99. (less than your average capital city pint) StarDrone Extreme is perfectly priced for taking a risk on it.