Freemium experiences on iOS just keep getting better. It wasn't long ago that gamers looking for a free game to play could choose from a variety of -ville and -war titles and very little else. Now, as free-to-play titles regularly hold the top of the charts, we're seeing freemium models worked into all sorts of games.
The latest to catch my fancy is Startales [Free], a darling game about a lonely star seeking the one he loves. Not only does Startales have engaging gameplay, borrowing the hook-and-swing mechanic of games like Hook Champ [$2.99], it also offers something of an emotional experience.
In Startales, you play a small star who has fallen in love. Tragically, you aren't bright enough to be seen by the object of your affections. She simply shines too bright. The other occupants of the sky dedicate themselves toward helping you win your lady love, lending their brightness to you until you shine bright enough.
In practice, this means that you hook your way from cloud to cloud, using your momentum to fling you forward and up into the night sky and collecting the other stars from the sky. Once you have enough, you have a chance to fly with your beloved. If you can keep close to her for long enough, you'll win her over and win the game.
After your first two attempts, which introduce you to the game with everything Startales has to offer, you are faced with a stripped-down version of the game. As you collect stars they're pooled together to act as currency. You can use them to activate a selection of power-ups that allow you to collect more stars, to build up your score or to fly with your love. You have to choose how you want to play -- do you want to get the highest score and fly the furthest? Or do you want to win the heart of your love? You'll probably end up doing both, realistically, working on your high score until you have enough stars to fly with your love, and doing it all over again when you fail to win her over.
That was the point where my heart broke, just a tiny bit. I'd worked hard to shine brightly enough to find her, and then I only had a few moments to fly with her at my side. But it was hard to keep up with her and she got away. I followed the on-screen indicator to catch her, but tragedy struck. I launched myself badly and lost her. As I flew, the indicator grew smaller and smaller, then disappeared completely. She was gone. Defeated, I let darkness come up and claim me. I'll be honest -- it was actually kind of sad.
If you can't stand the heartbreak, you can purchase extra stars and just keep trying. I prefer to earn my way into her heart, and it helps that the rest of the game is quite a lot of fun. You can choose power-ups that complement your strengths and keep using them as long as you earn enough stars to pay for them. While you're at it, you can use the game's robust multiplier system to work your way up the leaderboard (which will hopefully use Game Center at some future date).
Intrigued? Check it out -- Startales is free, after all. And don't forget to share your impressions in our discussion thread.
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