On paper StarDrone Extreme sounds interesting, even exciting. There’s a combination of mechanics that pull together to form the complete package, bringing together elements of pinball and breakout, with mazes to navigate and a plethora of stars to collect. At times the combination of all of these elements is a cohesive and clever thing. Along the way though, as the challenge ramps up, a few big issues creep up. The problems with the game are ones that are deeply rooted in it’s structure. They are the kind that don’t necessarily creep up in every level, but when they do it’s impossible to ignore.
This is a game formulated out of many parts, and to better look at the game it’s best to examine the parts individually. First off, there is the pinball aspect of the game. The StarDrone is the equivalent of the ball in this case, and like pinball, it’s not directly controlled. You can guide the drone towards the appropriate passages, but without proper aim it will happily keep floating onwards until it either hits something or gets sucked into a black hole.
There are no flippers though. Unlike pinball, the stage is more of a elaborate maze than a vertical stack. Control over the drone is done via preset gravity beacons laid throughout the stage. The beacons latch onto the passing drone to alter it’s course, fully capable of swinging the drone around until a proper release can be performed. It’s the use of these beacons that’s required to navigate the maze as well as maneuver around its traps.
But there is very little precision in this system of movement. All it takes is the slightest mistake and then it’s back to the beginning of the stage. One of the reasons why is because there is no real way to turn around, aside from moving forward farther, hitting something, and then bouncing back. This makes for a fine method at first, but when there are more spikes than wall, a miscalculation could lead to a quick death.
Throughout the game there are walls that offer speed boosts. Since there’s no good way to turn around, plenty of gravity beacons become traps themselves, slingshotting the drone away from the objective just because they’re positioned so close to the wall. Enemies cluster up the screen so attempting to do something precise like move around them is near impossible. It takes a few hits to die, but because control is more suggestive than it is direct a lot of trouble can be caused by the placement of enemies alone.
And then there’s the method for which the gravity beacons are activated: by touch screen. This doesn’t sound bad. Touch the screen and activate the beacon and make the drone spin ’round. Nice and simple. The problem with this is that in order to navigate through the maze the player is forced to block off parts of the screen with their own, protruding fingers. This is the kind of thing that creeps up when the drone moves fast and the reaction time required to succeed drops to less than a second.
But within this package, there is some fun. A little bit. It’s a hint of what could be a fun little title, if the level design was scripted tighter. It could still retain its loose, vague notion of control, it just needs to be formed around it, so that these issues are never noticed. As is, StarDrone Extreme is filled with puzzled saturated with trial-and-error. At least the skip level DLC is now free of charge.