It turns out that the end of the world won't come courtesy of an asteroid after all. By all accounts, it’ll be a slow, drawn-out affair related to the fact that there are no expensive things left to burn.
Twinkle, the floating space rock in AstroComet, may appear to lend weight to the asteroid armageddon theory with his sinister grin, but it turns out the game’s not about the end of the world. It's about the beginning.
In the beginning...
Once upon a time the Goddess Sofia created all the stars, then quickly realised she’d forgot to turn them on. Anticipating the arrival of human beings, she sent out a single comet called Twinkle to strike every star and trigger the reactions needed to light up the universe.
So goes the only nod to narrative or character in LudoCraft’s puzzler. It doesn’t really get mentioned again past the first level, and it’s mostly just a stylish wrapping, but it makes the objective clear. You have to hit all the stars to progress.
The problem is, you can’t control the comet directly. Instead you control the position of the stars, which are connected by an impassable barrier.
The comet is trapped inside this barrier, meaning it bounces around from wall to wall until it either hits all the stars or your health bar runs down and it explodes from too many rebounds.
Think of Breakout but with the ball contained by solid walls on all sides, and with fewer blocks to hit. The only way to guide the comet or to make it strike its targets is to rotate the barrier and the stars with it.
Let there be light
The shape of the barrier changes from level to level, meaning it’s mostly a matter of instinctively calculating angles and velocity on the hoof. As you complete each galaxy new challenges appear, such as tackling moving stars and guiding Twinkle through portals.
It sounds more complex than it is. Basically, you’re just moving a shape round in a circle and aiming to hit some targets. But with every level the shapes become more twisted, narrow, and detailed, and it becomes much harder to predict the path of the comet – which also becomes more fragile and therefore capable of sustaining fewer rebounds.
If things ever get too difficult, you have ten chances to skip a level, while the first level of each galaxy is already open to play. So getting stuck never completely hobbles your game.
Coupled with the fact that there are over 100 levels, this increasing difficulty is sure to make for a long-lived distraction. The three-star system of reward is also in place, rather appropriately, which makes it even more replayable.
...and it was good
It’s a simple but inspired concept - one of those glaringly obvious ideas you kick yourself for not having thought of yourself. But there's one significant flaw.
The left thumbpad on the Xperia Play lets you rotate the surrounding shape. Circling your thumb around the nib is sufficient for early levels, but as things get harder (and they do get much, much harder) you begin to notice the jumpiness of the touchpad.
I ultimately deemed it too unreliable and instead had to use the original touchscreen method of tracing my finger around the outsides of the screen. Sadly, this way has its own problem – your own hands often get in the way and you can’t see where Twinkle is heading. This can be infuriating, but with patience and dexterity the problem can be mostly avoided. An it’s not like you won’t have all the time in the universe to practise.
Overall, there’s enough raw, reflex-based puzzle power here to last days – a bargain at 67p. And even if you don’t three-star every level (heavens knows I couldn’t manage it), don’t worry – it’s not the end of the world.