By Eric Pankoke on Sun, 05/31/2009
The reality is that match 3 games - the genre made famous by the game Bejeweled - are currently a dime a dozen in the App Store. So what does a developer need to do to make their take on the match 3 game stand out from the crowd? I'd say that taking lessons from Treasures Of Montezuma would be a great start. I have several of the hotly anticipated iDevice titles that have come out over the past couple of months sitting on my device, yet I find myself continually drawn to playing TOM instead. To me that speaks to both the addictive nature of the genre and the creativity the designers employed to make TOM a match 3 experience unlike most others on the iDevice.
For those who might not actually be familiar with the genre, match 3 games are basically games where you try to remove pieces from the playing board by matching 3 or more objects of the same color. While there are variations on the theme, this usually amounts to swapping the position of two pieces such that one of them will form a horizontal or vertical line of 3 or more pieces with the same color. Those pieces will disappear, pieces on top of them will fall down to fill in the gaps, and new pieces will fall from the top of the screen to replace any holes at the top. Each level will usually have a goal to reach, and some of the more advanced games even have "ultimate goals" that are accomplished by beating all the levels. Now that you know the basics of a match 3 game, let's talk about the specifics that make TOM so much better than the others.
The first thing I really like about this game is that you're not just trying to make matches. Rather, you're trying to collect a certain number of gems on each level. This number goes up by five each level, though your time to complete the level does not go up proportionately (it can be increased, however, which I'll cover later). The gems are embedded within certain tokens on the playing board, and they will be freed and added to your total when you use the given gem in a match. The second thing I like about the game is the upgrade system. For each level you complete you earn a star. There are also mini-games that you can complete to earn a star, and finally there is a scoring mode called "scoring frenzy" that will help you earn stars. As a result it's possible to earn up to three stars per level, depending on the circumstances surrounding the completion of that level.
So what are the stars used for? There are different aspects of the game that can be increased (for example, you start the game with only a maximum of four gems on screen at one time, but you can raise this maximum to eight with earned stars). There are also totems that can be activated and upgraded. The totems are probably the best part of the game. There is a totem for each color token that can appear on the board. Once you have activated a totem by giving it at least one star, you can use it during game play. To use a totem you must first match three or more tokens of the corresponding color. This gets the totem "ready", and then matching another set of three or more tokens of that same color will "use" the totem. The totem must be readied and used in two consecutive matches. So what do the totems do? The red one, for example, will shoot fireballs and destroy some of the tokens on the screens (gems trapped inside of destroyed tokens will be added to your total). The orange totem, on the other hand, will add some time to your clock when used. Each totem is helpful, and becomes even more useful as it is upgraded. One other feature of the upgrade system that's nice is that whenever you're on that screen you have the option of taking away stars from one item and adding them to another. This allows you to customize game play however you like.
I think this really only covers part of what TOM entails, but discovery is half the fun. Besides, I really need to move on to other games and reviews! I will say this, though. There is only one thing that I was particularly disappointed about, and that's the ending. I finally beat the game (yes, I was playing it while I was writing this review), and the game basically just ends. It would have been nice to have something waiting there for all of my troubles. But, if this is the only thing I can find to complain about, I'd say that makes for a pretty good game.
Visually, TOM is stunning. The playing board itself looks cool enough for a puzzle game, but the artists went above and beyond with the bells and whistles. When there is a power up on the board, it's animated. When a totem is used, there's animation. When a power up is executed, the board goes crazy. You get multiple power ups and / or matching combos going on at the same time, and you can't even tell half the time what's going on. It doesn't matter, though, because it's so cool looking you just sit back and watch for a couple of seconds. Just don't forget to start playing again once the fireworks are over!
The audio is just as amazing as the video. The sound effects are so in tune with what's going on in the game, and even the ones you hear all the time don't get annoying, which is a rarity with this type of game. I really like the fact that you can tell the difference between a match with a gem in it and one without. The music is excellent as well, and while that does get a bit repetitive after a while (there's only one track in the game), you'll soon get so caught up in the action again that you'll forget that the music was starting to get on your nerves.
I never thought I'd be so enamored by a match 3 game, but this is probably the first time I've run the course of actually finishing one on a mobile device. There are enough game play twists that you don't mind the fact it's simply a match 3 at the base level. The aesthetics are probably the best I've seen in a portable match 3 game. If this game isn't in your iDevice collection, it should be. That even goes for you, hard core gamer. Sometimes you have to take a break and play something casual!