StarDrone

You Got Breakout In My Pinball!

"Move" over Peggle, StarDrone is my new addiction.
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: April 11, 2011
A few years ago, when the Xbox 360 launched the "Community Games" program (since renamed "XBLA Indie Games"), one of the few bright spots in an early morass of fart simulators and video fireplaces was a little gem called CarneyVale Showtime. In that game, you launched a hapless acrobatic clown into a virtual maze of balloons and tried to find a way to pop all of them before finding your way to the exit. I'm sure there have been games with that same premise earlier in history (hell, Circus Atari might qualify), but I'd say that CarneyVale Showtime is the closest relative to Beatshapers newest PSN offering, StarDrone.


Much like CarneyVale, you begin every round of StarDrone by launching your 'drone' into a maze-like atmosphere littered with stars waiting for you to run them over and light them up. Due to engineering limitations, your drone has no means of locomotion or steering on its own, and in space not only can no one hear you scream, but they also forgot to pay for gravity, so your poor drone will just aimlessly drift in a straight line. If it happens to drift out into open space, well then an ill-intentioned black hole will waste no time absorbing your drone and sucking into another dimension or a dirty Popeye's restaurant or whatever is at the mythical end of a black hole.

Obviously that should make for a really dull game, but thankfully your drone has some resiliencies, and if you can just launch it so it hits a wall instead of careening into the unknown, it will happily bounce off in a new direction and continue along its inertia-free path. Unless of course that wall is made out of deadly spikes, in which case you'll just explode and be forced to launch a new drone. Who knew space had so many spikes?

Given the rather enormous size of some of the mazes, you might be waiting days for your trajectory to take you across each individual star (there can be hundreds in a level) and out the exit, if it would happen at all. To remedy that untenable situation, beacons are strategically placed throughout the level that allow you to latch onto the drone and draw it into orbit. As long as you stay latched onto the beacon, you'll lazily orbit around and maintain momentum. Release from the beacon, and you'll slingshot off on a new trajectory. By passing the drone from beacon to beacon, you can traverse the whole level in a nifty way, collecting all the stars. Some levels also throw in gems to collect, all of which must be brought to a central location to open the portal to the next level. As you gather gems, they form a tail that follows you around and is reminiscent of the flower petals in Flower.

Other than the deadly spikes I mentioned earlier, your other foes (besides spinning off into open space) are some evil drones that pop up now and then and get in your way. Given your lack of, well, anything on your drone, your only means of combating this menace is to build up a good head of steam and grab a bunch of stars. This will let you enter superdrone mode where you can barrel through those pests without taking any damage. When you do inevitably end up blowing up from enemy drones, spikes or space, fear not, you can simply relaunch at the start. Your one true enemy here is the clock, as you'll want to beat the par times, and of course your friends times.

StarDrone ramps the challenge up fast, and soon you'll be facing punitively hard levels that require a pretty precise series of orbits and launches to complete your objectives. Thankfully, levels are short, and while it might take half a dozen tries to get through, the euphoric feeling when you figure it out never gets old.

Sure, the game can be played with a standard DualShock controller, and it works pretty well. But where StarDrone really shines is with the Move. It might not be saying much at this point, but Beatshapers has the best 3rd-party implementation of Sony's motion baby that I've seen yet (although Flight Control HD isn't too shabby). Pointing at the screen and clicking to activate a beacon is seamless, then you just spin the controller in the way you want to orbit and release. It's a very comfortable and accessible method of control for this game, and it feels very tight. If you've got a Move gathering dust in your drawers, now would be a great time to get it out.

StarDrone is a surprising little gem that looks and sounds great, has a simple and family-friendly concept, and uses a unique control scheme. The game hasn't seen a lot of hype, but those looking for a slightly trippy experience with occasionally frustrating but challenging gameplay should turn their attentions to the stars. StarDrones, that is.
The Verdict
8.5

A fun little fusion of genres that looks classy and makes creative use of the Move controller, StarDrone is a great investment for anyone who likes fun. Just watch out for those spikes!

8.5Graphics:

Clean presentation with surprising amounts of detail in some of the textures. Certainly one of the prettier downloadable titles out there.

8.5Sound:

Sure, there shouldn't be sound in space, but when the sounds are this pleasing, I won't quibble. Lots of attention was given to making the different materials you bounce off of have just the right auditory highlights.

9.5Control:

It works well with your standard DS3, but the really story here is the outstanding Move implementation. The controls are the perfect vehicle for the motion and pointing controls, and it feels oh-so-right.

8.0Gameplay:

It's a simple premise made better by tossing in just enough variety and puzzles to keep things new and fresh for all 50 levels, and the challenge of the online leaderboards can keep you coming back.