Hot on the heels of StarDrone for the PS3, indie developers Alexey Menshikov of Beatshapers and Andriy Sharanevych from Orb Games bring their colourful top-down physics puzzler to the PS Vita. Does StarDrone Extreme play to the strengths of the handheld console? Or is it just another watered down version? Let’s find out.

In StarDrone Extreme, you take charge of a spacecraft that is always in motion and must navigate it across the 60 cosmic environments. You’re not in control of the spacecraft—well not directly in control, anyways. Numerous beacons are dotted across each level, and your craft can use its grappling hook to attach itself to said beacons. As the craft rotates around a beacon, you select the direction in which you’d like it to travel—ideally, in the direction of the next beacon—by removing the grappling hook. Continue this process until you reach the intended destination. The levels have different win parameters: in some you need to collect a certain amount of stars, others require you to find all the gems. Sometimes you’re require to smite all your enemies, and at other moments you just need to get to the end of the level. You have limited health and your traversal of the level is scored and timed, and you’re awarded with the silverware if you complete it in a specific amount of time.

Between you and victory in each level lies some fiendish level design and aggressive enemies, but the biggest foe is actually the difficulty setting. One of the criticisms levelled against StarDrone on the PS3 was about how hard it was to finish the levels, much less do it in time to win a medal. Subsequently, an “easy” mode has been added to the PS Vita version. You’ll die less often; however, you won’t score as many points as you would if you play on the original masochistic “hard” setting. The developers have sought to reward those players with…less talent and deftness: there’s a trophy to be earned if you fail to complete a level after 20 attempts. It is called “Epic Fail!” and, yes, I have earned it.

While the game might be difficult in parts, the control mechanism is anything but. Your spacecraft can be moved from one beacon to another by tapping the specific beacon using front touchscreen. Keep your finger pressed on the screen and your craft orbits the node; release your finger to send it shooting off. If your fingers are the size of sausages, it may be difficult to see the trajectory of your craft. Thankfully you can also use the rear touch pad to tap in the general vicinity of a beacon and the game will make the connection. It’s a simple system that works.

Despite having a starry backdrop, the levels in StarDrone Extreme aren’t dazzling. Not at first. They can become quite colourful when you have collected enough stars to unlock comet rush mode, where you can destroy enemies that you aren’t normally able to. And in the times when the action gets frenetic, the frame rate stays constant and smooth. There is also a small minimap on the bottom left of the screen to help with navigationally challenged playrers, but it’s a little too transparent to be much of an assistance.

Unlike Hustle Kings or Motorstorm RC, you won’t get the PS3 version free if you buy StarDrone Extreme on Vita (and vice versa). However, cloud saves have been added with the most recent update of the game. If you’ve bought both versions of the game, this cross-play mechanism enables you to save your progress on StarDrone on the PS3 and the continue from where you left off on the PS Vita, or the other way around.

StarDrone Extreme also supports leader boards that allow you to see how much better everyone else is at the game, and looking at the global list, there are certainly a lot of overachievers. There is a section that lists your friends’ scores but at the time of writing this, it doesn’t seem to work. One feature that would have been nice to have (and was much lauded in The Splatters) would be a way to see playbacks of other gamers’ high-scoring sessions to see how it was done. Some of the leader board scores look well nigh unattainable without some sort of technique.

What does work in the game’s favour is its price. At ZAR35.00, StarDrone Extreme is one of the cheapest (if not *the* cheapest) PS Vita game available at the minute. With its 60 levels there’s certainly a lot to overcome, and numerous bonuses and medals to collect. Precise timing is paramount to success in StarDrone Extreme, and even on the easy setting, the difficulty may prove a little too frustrating for some casual players. The temptation to skip a level can become overwhelming at times and there is an option to do that. Previously you’d have to buy the level skipper DLC (ZAR10.00), but it’s since been made available for free.

Overall StarDrone Extreme‘s curious mix of pinball, breakout, and puzzle mechanics blend well together. If you’re itching to play game that combines low margins of error with high levels of difficulty, then StarDrone Extreme may just be the scratch to your itch.

Final score: 7 StarDrones out of 10

Detailed information:
Developer: Beatshapers + Orb Games
Publisher: Beatshapers
Platform: PS Vita
RRP: R35.00
Release Date: 11 April 2012
Website: http://beatshapers.com/stardrone