StarDrone review: I whip my ship back and forth

Great puzzle games all have one thing in common: they use easy-to-learn gameplay to mask their deceptive complexity and depth. Seemingly simple concepts are made compelling through clever design and tight controls.

Ideally, players will argue over the best way to do things, the more heated the better. Hell, I once saw a couple of nerds get in a full-on fistfight over Bejeweled strategies. (Yes, it was awesome.)

That said, I don't see StarDrone causing any fistfights any time soon. Sadly, there's just not much here worth coming to blows over.

It's simple enough idea to grasp. Players fire off a little spaceship in a direction of their choosing, a path it follows until something causes it to change directions. Turning can happen by the ship running into a wall (obviously), or by latching onto one of the floating hubs in the world, causing the ship to go into orbit around them. Each level has a different goal, most of which involve lighting up stars that are strewn about the level or collecting pieces of shapes and bringing them to an end point.

Simply making it through each level is usually fairly easy, but earning gold medals for speed can be exceedingly difficult, requiring exacting timing and precise aim. Unfortunately, the turning mechanic isn't terribly precise, which leads to more than a few rage-inducing wrong turns, as well as some cheap deaths via spikes. Even turning the speed of the game down to its minimum (a thankful addition to the options menu) doesn't change the vague sloppiness of the main mechanic. Using a Move controller only makes it worse. Instead of simply pointing in the direction of the hubs with the Dualshock's analog stick, you have to aim at them with the Move controller, which is crazy imprecise and makes some of the harder levels nearly impossible to beat.

StarDrone is a title that reeks of being over-designed

The only way I was able to ever complete a level with the highest marks for speed was to play it over and over again until the timing of the turns had been burned into my muscle memory. Sure, some people will be better than me at the game, but that doesn't change the fact that the vast majority of the levels have one obvious line to the high score with very little opportunity for variation or creativity. Memorizing timing is pretty far from how I like spending my free time.

Once in a great while, there are larger maps with multiple paths through the level. These were pleasant enough, though still marred by the imprecise controls that got in the way of my attempts to fling my ship down some of the slimmer paths. These levels are few and far between, and they really serve to exemplify what's wrong with rest of the levels.

StarDrone is a title that reeks of being over-designed, leaving the player with very little agency over how they want to complete the challenges set out for them. For every level that allows for a smidgen of strategy and exploration, there are several that force players down a single, unchanging path, which is pretty far from fun fun.

Honestly, I'd almost prefer a fistfight.

This review is based on final PSN code of StarDrone provided by Beatshapers. Taylor Cocke is a Bay Area-based recent graduate from University of California Berkeley. After spending a couple years as the world's greatest lowly intern at Official Xbox Magazine, he has begun his life as a freelance games journalist.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.