--------DON'T LET LOOKS FOOL YOU...--------
"Budget" games are usually made for gamers on a tight budget. While many people are beggining to understand the principal behind the creation of super cheap games (with the Nintendo Wii selling like hotcakes...), it should come as no surprise that many others still hate budget games with a passion and steer clear of them. I don't necessarily hate budget games; Actually, I hate games that come out for top dollar, even though they play like garbage that should costs about ten or twenty bucks. Budget games have become notorious for being known as games so generic and/or bland, they aren't even worth the ten dollars you might pay for them. However, there are some budget titles that are rather enjoyable...in rare cases, worth significantly more than their denoted dollar value. StarSweep is one of those rare games in my book. Being released for about ten dollars brand new (and being part of the "Superlite" games in Japan), StarSweep has a cute and simple case design that hides the bigger picture; a game that I feel that both budget gamers and other games can enjoy...and for a good price.
One interesting thing that I can say about StarSweep is that it didn't try to be just another "me too" puzzle game at a cheap price; SW actually plays differently than several standard action puzzle titles. You see, SW was originally seen back in Japanese arcades in 1997. The Arcade version was published/manufactured by Namco (won't say anything about Namco) and developed, in part, by another company that was lesser known... a company by the name of Axela. Axela didn't have their name in too many games...anyone know about a super rare Super Famicom game known by the name of Genjuu Ryodan or a Playstation title known as Ridegear Guybrave?...I didn't think so. Besides Namco, Arika (known for the "Street Fighter EX" games) also aided in the production of the game. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, SW is the finest product that I have seen Axela's name in, since I haven't even played Guybrave (though I've heard good things). Thankfully, I mean that in a good way, not in that snooty condescending way. The U.S. version of the game (published by Agetec's "A1 Games" division) had its name changed to Puzzle Star Sweep. It is also interesting to know that SW was also made for the Game Boy in Japan.
--------SACRIFICES HAD TO BE MADE--------
Puzzle Star Sweep is a charming little game with a little bit of everything. Of course, since the game didn't cost much of squat when it was released, there are certain aspects of the game that I can't bring myself to take seriously...like say...the story. The game revolves around a fourteen year old elf-girl thing named Tia who loves to play a revolutionary game in her world known as "Stardust"...so guess what? She goes around her tiny island to battle a handful of others (nine others) skilled at Stardust in order to become the master of Stardust. In other words, she just beats one person after the other and the story doesn't really amount to jack...and she does it all with the help of a magical little oinker known as a "Star Pig". I mean, for ten bucks, I'm okay with playing with a protagonist who doesn't really have anything better to do with her time and the game DOES attempt to tell you a few sentences about each character when a certain condition is met, but all it really amounts to is that everyone is nice and responsible in some way EXCEPT for one who doesn't really know what the heck she is doing. Fair enough...though I don't understand why Tia's name was changed from her original Japanese name of Sitora. All the other main story characters possess their same names (though Po is named Pou in the Japanese game).
The U.S. game also removed some other things from the Japanese game. Although it is trivial, a loading screen showing Tia/Sitora upper half with minor dialogue was removed from the U.S. game. I felt that was something that could have been effortlessly translated, but that's fine. Another minor thing that was changed is that the characters' names aren't displayed during matches...but that doesn't really matter. More importantly, all the character audio clips have been removed from the game. Originally, the characters of PSW spoke various statements depending on different things such as when they won or lose, etc. The aforementioned statement may be a blessing to some and a turn-off to others. I personally liked the Japanese voices, but I can live without them. The U.S. game also had a song removed from its ending that was actually rather nice to listen to as well, but I didn't expect them to have someone sing the song in English. Actually, I'm surprised this game was even translated. Still, the music (what little is present) is excellent, particularly Po/Ken's oriental theme. Two characters share music in this game. Tia and Mint share a theme. Funger and Rio share a theme. Po and Ken share a theme. Domingo and Rank share a theme. Lastly, B-1 and Dr. J (the game's end boss) share a theme. Besides that, there are a few other tunes that play during other parts of the game.
--------CHEAP IN PRICE, RICH IN FUN!--------
The gameplay and options of the U.S. and Japanese games are identical from my knowledge, which is good because gameplay is what matters most and it is also main element that makes PSW fun to play. It also helps to know that Ryuji Kuwaki (a man listed as an "Assistant" in the credits of Tetris Attack/ Panel de Pon) is also one of the programmers for this game. While I personally find Tetris Attack more enjoyable, PSW does still possess an innovative game system that makes it a good versus puzzler to play against friend or foe. PSW has various modes to choose from. First, I'll start with the title screen modes. You have an options mode to save or load data as well as an option to change the music from the remixed original music of the Playstation version or to the original arcade music from the arcade game. You can also change your button setup (which is pretty pointless since the game only has two primary functions), the number of rounds in versus and story mode and view the various rankings and where you or others stack up. After meeting a certain condition, you can also change the character you use in some modes on the option screen, which also changes the music to whatever their theme is. There is also a practice mode to build up your skills and a "stardust" option to show you how much "stardust" you can gain from doing various things. Getting "stardust" allows you to unlock a few things in the game that you can't get normally.
When you decide to start the main game (by choosing "START" on the title screen), you can choose from more modes. You have a 1-player mode where the object is to destroy objects to get to the bottom of the screen. In this mode, the screen rises and more obstacles appear as the screen rises to stop you from getting to the bottom. Along the way, you will fight bosses that must be destroyed by eliminating blocks that are touching the boss. After doing this several times, the boss is defeated and you continue on to reach the bottom. By doing combos and chains, you can build stock, which helps you survive by giving you extra time during tough moments. However, if you build enough stock (eight to be exact), you gain extra points, but your stock resets to zero. You also have a versus mode where you can play against another player, a story mode where you can become the master of Stardust or whatever, an "Attack" mode, where you can challenge yourself (I'll explain more later), and two modes that must be unlocked with stardust points. One mode gives you a little information on each of the main story characters in the game (most of which is taken directly from the manual...) and the other mode challenges you to the extreme. It is an insane version of the normal story mode where the first person is as hard as the last person in the main story mode and they get even harder as you progress...in short, it isn't for weenies. It's a "Big Boy, Big Girl" only club. Beating it gives you a lot of stardust points, but it isn't worth it. By the time you unlock the mode, you really have most of the stardust points you could want.
I've heard a few times that this game plays similarly to Tetris Attack, but I don't exactly agree with that assessment. You are capable of doing large chains and combos and the action is frenzied, but not nearly to the same degree as games like Tetris Attack or Puyo Puyo. In Tetris Attack, you could not throw blocks around like you do in PSW. PSW allows you to rotate blocks like Tetris, and you can launch the blocks onscreen. Unlike Tetris, blocks are always 1x3 (or 3x1 depending on how you rotate it) in shape. That aspect never changes. The interesting thing is that you can't destroy blocks by making rows of them. In each block, there is a rotating star that is always on the top (or bottom, depending on rotation), but never in the middle. Some blocks have them on the top AND the bottom. The blocks also come in different colors and you must match blocks with other blocks of the same color. This is the good part though; Blocks of the same color will only be destroyed if the rotating star of one block lines up with a rotating star of the other block. Unlike some action puzzlers, PSW taunts your mental senses more because not only must you be mindful of blocks of similar color, you must also be mindful of the rotating stars when your stack is collapsing and ensure that one rotating star connects to touch another rotating star adjacent to it. In Tetris attack, you could destroy any block of matching color anywhere since you could move blocks anywhere in your stack. PSW makes you think even more because simply matching like objects is not enough.
The Attack mode (which I mentioned before) can help build your skills to make large chain reactions. There is a link attack where you must do as big a chain as possible within a limited time. You have a combo chain where you must try to get as many rotating stars to touch each other at the same time as possible within a limited time...I found this to be very difficult in this game. I've gotten five rotating stars of the same color to touch, but you can also get different pairs of matching colors and stars to touch too...so long as they touch at the same time, it will add into your combo. It's like getting four or five of the same block to touch in Tetris Attack, only harder. There is a score attack to get a certain score during a specific time, a 5-links attack where you must try to do a 5 link combo in a specific time, a time attack mode, and an obstacle attack mode. In obstacle attack mode, you must try to survive as long as possible while obstacle bombard the screen. By destroying blocks that are touching the obstacle(s) (whether horizontally or vertically), you also destroy the obstacle(s).
--------RECYCLE SODA CANS TO GET THIS!--------
My one major gripe is with the stacking system. Lining up the rotating stars can sometimes be a real pain. and even with tons of blocks on your screen, it can be nearly impossible to match up any blocks to destroy the obstacles. This is not usually a problem with games like Tetris Attack, because you could match up any matching block to tackle an obstacle and your stack was never usually a problem. The CPU is also merciless at times and has no problem screwing up your delicate stack. However, with some practice, you can overcome the stacking issue and even pull off some sweet chain combinations. Truthfully though, I can pull off much better chains easier in Tetris Attack or Puyo Puyo, but the chain potential in PSW is just as high if you can manage to get a good stack set up without being interrupted...which I can do to an extent. The music is good, the visuals are typical to the genre (cute, colorful, nothing over-the-top), and the game provides players with quality entertainment. Puzzle Star Sweep is a good game that puts a little spin on the action puzzle genre to provide a lot of fun.
- Written by Vyse the determined -