Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Match 3 part II: The Matchening

Man, July was a sparse month for blogging. Well, we'll fix that. We will blog it faster, stronger, better. Or at least sooner. Continuing where last post's videogame travelogue left off, I was slowly, slowly edging towards describing Battleheart: Legacy, and listing all my match 3 substitutes. Let's try that some more, after the break.

Of RPS' list of alternatives, I already sampled many, as I mentioned. Bejweled 3 was nice for its many modes, but after the variety wears off, you're left with a high score game, which I've never found particularly appealing. I prefer games that have a sense of progression between levels, rather than constant acceleration. Even in Tetris, I preferred the Mode B clear X number of lines to Mode A's "survive as long as you can." Bejewelled 3 comes from the other side of tile-game lineage, but it's the same principle.

Likewise, I never felt very satisfied with Zookeeper. I think the iPhone version I've got was 0.99, so I won't go so far as to say that I regret buying it, because I got at least what I paid for out of it. But the gameplay doesn't progress so much as intensify, like Bejewelled and Tetris. The nominal fiction is that animals have escaped from the zoo, and you recapture them by matching them. Each level requires you to hit a quota of animals--make matches including x amount of each kind to advance, that sort of thing. There's a lot of complicating factors--the ticking clock automatically gets filled if you make a match, every round a particular critter is designated the bonus type and gives extra points for matching, a binocular accessory that points out matches in a pinch (but you only get a limited number), a wild button that pops up occasionally and destroys removes all critters of that type on the board at the moment. There's also a VS mode and a mode where the level goes up every time you hit 100 of any animal type. In short, it's a game that's good for short bursts, but not something I'd play for more than five minutes or so at a time.

Then there's Puzzle Quest. The basic mechanics are generally the same as Marvel Puzzle Quest, which I've described at painstaking length in the past, so I'll spare you a recitation. Assuming you remember the MPQ form, Puzzle Quest original is largely the same, only with a single PC rather than fielding a team of three. It's also got the trappings you'd expect from a fantasy setting; rather than superheroes and villains slugging it out, it's a warrior or thief or mage or whatever fighting skeleton hordes and ogres. The original was a little bare bones in terms of depiction: you traveled around a world map, with little windows for non-battle encounters. The sequel adds a full movement interface, but at the expense of limiting its scope; like the original Diablo, it has the player go through a single dungeon, with a single town to retreat to between treks. It's a step in the wrong direction, in my opinion. The fantasy genre (as represented in videogames, at least) is predicated around the epic quest, and if you're going to reduce the scope of that quest, then you need to really add something in terms of narrative or depth, which PQ2 failed to do. At any rate, I've sunk an ungodly amount of time into both of them, and the only thing that prevents them from being excellent Candy Crush alternatives is that I played them long before I played Candy Crush.

Likewise many of the others. Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is a sci-fi twist on Puzzle Quest, where the game uses hexagons instead of regular squares. It's actually a little better plot-wise than the regular Puzzle Quest, but it has two major flaws: first, it makes you play a lot of mini-game type things when doing almost anything, from fighting a new enemy to just trying to activate a new path. And that gets annoying because of the other major puzzle change aside from hexagon shapes: rather than have new tiles drop from the top and tiles fall downward, as in most match 3 games, they fall towards the center. It reflects the space theme well, but it makes the game too hard to predict and too hard to set up moves. I have this game for the Nintendo DS, and bought it originally around its release in 2009.

10, 000, 000 got a lot of play from me. The idea is that you're a little pixel fighter thing running through a dungeon along the top side of the screen, and you have to time your matches to what's going on up there. If you're facing a door, you want to match keys. If you're facing a monster, you want to match wands (magic attack) or swords (physical attack) or shields (own defense), depending on its weaknesses and your state. And there's items you can get, and there's upgrades you can make, and there's perks you can turn on... it really captures that sense of progress that I (apparently) prize in a match 3, as there's new dungeons to unlock and new upgrades you can do to make yourself more equipped to handle them. It was also the game that taught me that time-based puzzles were not a good genre to mess with using a track pad mouse instead of an actual mouse.

Triple Town is a weird game, even for match 3. The idea is that if you place 3 or more objects of the same kind beside each other, they combine to form a bigger object/building. Three shrubs make a bush. Three shrubs make a tree. Three trees make a hut. And from there, it goes hut to house, house to mansion, mansion to castle, castle to flying castle. (I think.) And you can match more than three, in which case, you get bonus coins that can be spent in the other phase. The game has two phases: a perma-town thing, where you upgrade buildings to produce material that lets you buy items, and a session-based town, where you can use items. The perma-town is the game's progress thing; the session-based town is where the main game is. The main complexity of the game comes from the fact usually, the only item you're given to make a match is a bit of grass, so you have to plan in advance how to get that house. The other wrinkle is that sometimes, you get a bear, which is a unit that walks around randomly (or teleports randomly, for ninja bears), and generally gets in the way of what you're trying to place. But if you trap a bear so it can't move, it turns into a grave, and three graves make a church, and that sets you down a whole other line of matches, culminating in chests. There's a few other things too, but that's the gist of it. The problem here isn't that it lacks a sense of progress, but that the game is *too* long-game oriented; it requires a long-term planning that I'm fairly terrible at, and loud and many are the curses I utter when I realize that I've wasted dozens of turns moving towards a castle only to screw it all up with a misplaced blade of grass.
On the other hand, the developers are working towards a more adventure game type thing with the same matching mechanics, Road Not Taken, which comes out.... my goodness. Today. There's a good chance that by the time this post series actually catches up with what I'm playing, I'll be playing that.

Anyway, that once again is enough for this post. Join me next time, when I finally reach the end of the Match 3 list, and maybe even start describing Battleheart: Legacy, so I can start describing the other many games that were actually meant to be the (not battle) heart of this series of posts.

Later Days.

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