These match-three games reimagine the role-playing genre

by Phil Hornshaw

The match-three genre is a staple of casual gaming. Made super-popular by Popcap’s Bejeweled titles, there’s now a whole genre of imitators – games that have players moving colored objects around a grid in order to make groups of three or more. Making a group clears those objects, scores points, and progresses the game forward. Running out of moves or time usually causes players to lose.

Bejeweled and its ilk are nice, and many players find the genre addicting. I’ve never been able to play a match-three game for very long, but there’s a growing sub-genre of titles that are similar to match-three games, yet fundamentally different. These titles combine the grid-matching mechanics with a deeper view of strategy.The genre, which you might call match-three role-playing games, includes titles such as Dungeon Raid, my favorite of the group. It’s a game that takes a lot of imagination, because you’re playing one game and imagining another.

If you think about your typical, simplistic RPG, the game features an adventurer exploring a dungeon. In that place, the character usually fight monster and discovers treasure, all while leveling up his or her abilities. Dungeon Raid supposes that’s what you are doing, too, but without visualizing the dungeon part. Instead, you match icons on a grid by drawing lines through them to connect them, and each icon group has a different effect. You’ll fight monsters by drawing lines through monster icons and sword icons; you’ll heal yourself by drawing lines through potions.

It’s a novel take on the match-three game because instead of racing the clock or just racking up big points, you need to always be thinking about your next move. Do you need coins right now, or to heal? Should you attack or can you afford to wait a few seconds and earn some money? The entire dynamic of the match-three genre changes in Dungeon Raid, requiring a different set of skills than just identifying matches.

The quest for 10,000,000

Another entry into the match-three RPG genre is 10000000, the title of which refers to the target score players need to win the game. The story is that of an adventurer trapped in a dungeon; he lives there, waking up each day and heading out into the halls to fight monsters and find loot, until he’s inevitably defeated.

Among the sub-genre, 10000000 stands out as much for its challenge as its other elements. The 10,000,000-point mark is a hard one to hit, and takes quite a while. Along the way, however, players can improve their adventurer’s gear and capabilities by spending coins and gold earned out in the dungeon. As you grab loot from treasure chests, you can return to the adventurer’s area of the dungeon and open up various areas, like a blacksmith that can improve your armor and shops where the adventurer can learn more effective skills.

The game also offers some visuals of the adventurer actually heading through the dungeon – in fact, the side-scrolling view of your character fighting his way forward notifies you of what icons you need to clear from the grid. If you run into a locked door, you need to clear keys from the grid; if you run into an enemy, you need to match sword icons to attack. The dynamic of the visuals against the grid mean you need to be aware of what could be ahead, and try to clear excessive icons whenever you can in order to keep room for things you might need. You don’t want to get stuck fighting with only keys available.

Level up!

Improving your character is a big part of 100000000, and it’s also a major component of Dungeon Story. Where 10000000 is more a of a match-three game with mechanics like Bejeweled with icon-switching on a grid, Dungeon Story mirrors Dungeon Raid with its line-drawing emphasis. Dungeon Story also provides you with text prompts to let you know what monster you’re fighting, and how strong it is.

The primary emphasis in Dungeon Story is on “leveling up,” or earning points that make you more powerful over time. Defeating monsters in each dungeon by using attacks and keeping yourself healed with icons on the grid earns you these “experience points,” and they’re necessary to progress. Before long, you  become stronger than the monsters in your dungeon.

Dungeon Story includes several dungeons that are unlocked over time, and you can choose through which you’d like to adventure. But if you choose an older dungeon, chances are good you’ll be too strong for most of the monsters in the dungeon – meaning your growth will be slowed, and you’ll struggle to earn high scores. You’ll get further through the dungeon, though, and that can have its benefits, as well, especially as you start hitting “boss” enemies. Like the above two entries, Dungeon Story requires more strategic, RPG-style thinking, in which you’ll balance risk against potential reward.

All told, though, match-three RPG titles take a great thing in the Bejeweled-style formula, and offer a different way of looking at the well-worn and well-loved genre. All three of these titles are highly addictive, particularly if you’re a fan of both match-three and RPG mechanics. Be careful if you download these ones, because they’re hard to put down.

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