Mario might go bonkers for stars, but he’s got nothing on Starzzles’ red, rotund hero. This guy gobbles up five-pointed celestial objects like E.T. gobbled Reese’s Pieces, so luckily Starzzle has an abundance of the delicious yellow stars. His appetite for stars makes for a quirky indie puzzle game that sadly runs out of ideas before the game is complete, but definitely is worth checking out for fans of the genre.
Starzzle’s bite-sized levels are set up like a grid sprinkled with stars. The two goofy heroes are enthusiastic about their star collections, but they aren’t exactly the most agile creatures; pressing the D-pad in any direction sends the selected character dashing across the screen until he encounters an obstacle. Since you can’t stop in the middle of the dash, navigating the levels is a bit trickier than it looks, which provides the challenge and thus the fun. The apparently random obstacles are actually cleverly designed to provide blockades that allow you to change direction and align your character with the next star to be munched.
All of this means that you’ll have to put some thought into your movements, at least if you want to collect all of the stars. You can also swap freely between the red guy and his blue sidekick, who controls the same way aside from his unnatural aversion of those delectable stars. Instead of collecting a star, he actually stops dead in his tracks at the mere sight of one. He might have a bizarre phobia of stars, but he is a useful roadblock to allow the insatiable red guy to reach new places. Using the two critters in tandem was a lot of fun, and swapping between them to collect all of the stars was initially thrilling. There were plenty of times when I maneuvered them both around the level in frustration before being struck with that satisfying Archimedes moment.
But, for those of us who aren’t neurotic completionists, the game will let you finish a level without collecting every shiny object; the next level unlocks after a mere 60% of the stars are collected, which is both a blessing and a curse. Plenty of levels have one or two stars that are devilishly difficult to obtain, so I can understand why the designers didn’t want to allow the player to get stuck too easily. It’s a great idea in theory, but the vast majority of the stars can be collected by blindly flinging the red critter around the level. You could quite literally close your eyes and start hitting the D-pad in different directions to collect enough stars to complete most of the levels. The skip function should have some limitation in order to provide more balance to the game.
The relative ease of flying through the levels makes it all the more apparent that while Starzzle has 80 levels, there really is only about 25 levels worth of content. Outside of new backgrounds, levels at the end of the game felt eerily familiar to those at the beginning. They may have been marginally more challenging, but there were still plenty of levels in the last group where I collected all of the stars without even thinking. Theoretically I could have revisited the earlier levels to try and clean up the missed stars, but what’s the point? There is no story, no online leaderboards, and the game generally lacks that dangling carrot.
Starzzle has a great core concept with some satisfying levels, but it fails to really expand or build on its basic premise. With a little more level variety, perhaps some traps, new moves, or power-ups, it may have stayed fresh for more than an hour, but $1 for an hour’s worth of entertainment isn’t a bad deal. If you’re a puzzle nut, give it a whirl. It’s also worth noting that it’s available for Windows Phone 7, and although I can’t review that version, I can see its quick & efficient levels would be conducive to gaming on the go.
Starzzle was provided for review by Bionic-Thumbs and is available for 80 MS points ($1). You can download a free demo on the Xbox Live Marketplace.