Editorial and Review – Stardrone Extreme and reviewing cheap games

When reviewing a game I’m trying to decide (and describe) its worth. This is a nearly impossible thing to quantify as game prices fluctuate and the income of consumers are varied. So while $50 for Uncharted: Golden Abyss may seem high to me, it may seem like peanuts to someone who makes far more money than I do.  And then it gets even more confusing when certain territories, like Australia and New Zealand, have the same games priced even higher.  So while I did plunk down the $50 for Uncharted eventually, if I lived in New Zealand where the game is currently $88 (which is about $72 USD), I likely would have passed.  And while I think $40 is too much for Dungeon Hunters Alliance, if you ever see that sucker on sale for $20 totally pick it up – it’s quite fun.  But how do I convey that in a review?

The reason I’m bringing that up now is that Stardrone Extreme is the first of what I assume will be many games that are iOS-esque…. meaning they are small, (hopefully) fun and cheap.  Stardrone Extreme will set you back $3.99 on the US PSN currently.  How do I review whether that is worth the money?  For $4 I would buy Reality Fighters, and that game is complete garbage.  Even after a few years of iOS gaming on both my phone and iPad (and an Android tablet) I still can’t make any sense of what is worth what.  I’ll buy anything at 99 cents, and I have, and most of it has been completely terrible, but I’ve also played certain 99 cent games for 50+ hours.  But part of that platform is that unless you research everything you purchase (and have incredible willpower – something I DO NOT have) you will waste money on tons of crap.  It’s inherent to the platform.  If you’re smart you can come out of it with just awesome 99 cent games…if you’re me you come out of it with about 10 duds and one awesome find, so in essence I spent $11 to get that one game.

I’m gonna start talking about this game soon – I promise. I just have some stuff I need to hash out first.

The Vita clearly doesn’t have that issue yet but as more cheap games come down the pipe, and believe me – once PSsuite goes live there will be quite a few, we will need to figure out a way of parsing all of that stuff and figuring out what is worth what.  For Your Vita Hype will look at cheaper games as a genre to themselves to help lessen the confusion.  For instance, if you’ve peeked to the bottom you know I’m giving Stardrone Extreme 3 stars.  Elsewhere on this site you will see that I gave Ridge Racer 2 stars.  Now, I really like Ridge Racer – a lot.  But as I pointed out in my review it has so many weird design choices it’s hard to recommend to anyone but the most hardcore fans (the very definition of what a two star game is on this site).  Though if Ridge Racer cost $3.99 like Stardrone, it would be a 5 star game.  Hell, I would start inventing stars.  It would be 11 out of 5.  So, obviously, these things exist in different realities, if you will. A cheap game at 3 stars is not necessarily better than an expensive game at 2 stars.  It’s all relative to what type of game it is.

So how did Stardrone find its way to a 3 star score?  Pretty simply, actually – it’s quite fun.  The game is an interesting mix of physics puzzler and pinball.  The controls are all touch – which is odd given that the PS3 version is (obviously) all buttons.  But the touch controls work much better.  In fact, Stardrone is further proof that the back touch may just yet be the preferred way to play touch based games, as you can control it just as well without ever obscuring your vision.

The main crux to the gameplay in Stardrone is to touch the screen to attach to nodes which you immediately start orbiting. The trick is to release and shoot off into the direction you want to go. Simple concept, difficult execution – classic iOS gameplay…. err, I mean Vita gameplay.

The goal of Stardrone is to either collect all the stars in a level or collect all the colored gems.  There are enemies to avoid (or kill if you become powerful enough) and some vast levels to explore.  It’s mostly just a case of doing some geometry in your head on the fly to try to launch yourself in the direction you want to go in. It’s much like Angry Birds in that way – you know what you want to do, but the fun comes in trying to do it.  However: caveat – I don’t find Angry Birds to be all that fun.  But you get my point…

Stardrone is exactly what I would expect out of a $4 game.  It’s simple, the levels are mostly short, it looks good but not jaw dropping, and it plays well.  I wouldn’t suggest it’s the deepest game on earth, but the difficulty does ramp up quite a bit to the point where calling it the much maligned ‘casual game’ would lead people to think that someone without much game experience can finish it.  Let me make it clear: that just isn’t happening.

Besides just testing your phyics mettle the game does have some pinball-esque areas and a bit of exploration.

The game does sync up with the PS3 version if you happen to be one of the 5 people who bought that last year (I am…).  The cloud saving is nice, and I certainly wouldn’t ever knock a developer for adding this… but it’s mostly unnecessary. The Vita version is so much easier to play and the visuals aren’t all that much better served on a bigger screen, so why even bother playing the ps3 version at all?  Skip it.  And speaking of skipping it, the game features a 99 cent unlock which allows you to skip levels.  This, in and of itself, does not bother me.  What does bother me is it asks me about 500 times a play session whether or not I want to buy it. NO!  I DON’T!  LEAVE ME ALONE!

In the end what you are left with is a good use of $4 to help fill out your Vita library.  The game isn’t going to overtake your late nights of Unit 13 co-op or hours of grinding in Disgaea 3, but when you want a quick fix you will enjoy yourself.  And that’s all we can really ask of $4, isn’t it?

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