If there’s one genre of mobile gaming that’s gotten even more tiresome than the endless runner, it’s the “match-three” puzzle game format. It’s not just because Candy Crush is so ubiquitous (and King Entertainment is a bunch of soulless corporate predators), although that’s a big factor. No, this particular genre is just tired, devoid of innovation. It exists solely to kill time during a commute or lunch break. There’s no joy in these games—at least, that’s what I thought before I played Block Legend, the new puzzle-based RPG from Dot Warrior Games. This game is so much fun that it gives me hope for the whole genre.
Gameplay couldn’t be simpler: after choosing your adventurer, starting environment, and equipment, you set out on a quest to kill as many monsters as you can. (Dot Warrior bills this as a JRPG, but I can’t detect any of my favorite tropes from games like Final Fantasy—you don’t travel with a party, and there’s no story to speak of, so this is more of a general turn-based roleplaying experience.) While you travel, you look for matches on a 7×7 tile board. Any two or more adjacent tiles can be removed, but you can’t move tiles around yourself. This forces you to think ahead and try to arrange matching tiles, since running out of moves will cost you a quarter of your character’s total health.
Though each run is fun and strategic in itself, the real goal is to complete quest objectives and gain “Starbucks.” These little stars serve as in-game currency and can be spent to unlock new characters and starting environments, and to use more powerful equipment. But unlike most games these days, there are no in-app purchases in Block Legend—all your Starbucks will be earned through the sweat of your character’s brow. This is a particularly attractive feature (or lack thereof) in this era of freemium gimmicks. Starbucks aren’t hard to come by, but you’ll need to keep playing to unlock everything in the game.
Luckily, that’s not really a chore. There are over 100 quest objectives to complete in every run, and the journey is so much more enjoyable than the destination. Block Legend is not a game that takes itself too seriously—in fact, there are so many jokes that you’ll be hard-pressed to keep from laughing at the Depressed Ent you’re fighting on the train. It seems as though everything is a reference to something else, whether it’s a basic fantasy trope (regarding slime creatures: “you can’t have a fantasy game without one!”) or some fragment of pop culture (my personal favorite being the Neil Patrick Harris character “Doctor Adorable”). Absurdist fantasy humor can be tough to get right, but when you’re playing a skateboard-riding tomcat fighting a mermaid who says she’ll be “part of your world whether you like it or not,” it’s safe to say the mission was successful.
The graphics are similarly inspired—retro pixelated art is at once a great way to save money and tap into the nostalgia so many of us feel for the adventure games of our youth. Here, they work perfectly, especially since DotWarrior has still put substantial effort into making their designs as detailed as possible. The best part comes when you stumble into a boss battle and your massive enemy invades the entire screen, creating a sense of scale that most 2D games don’t even try to achieve.
With all that in mind, there are a few annoyances, chief among them being the item system. I’m a big fan of choice, and with so much of it in this game—from the broad range of available characters and equipment to the simple task of leveling up your stats intelligently—I expected at least to be able to see my inventory, or have one in the first place. Instead, I was limited to only item I found most recently, which is enormously frustrating. A proper inventory system is mandatory for a good RPG, and this fell far short of my expectations. The music is also mildly grating after the seventeenth loop; some more variation in the score would have been welcome.
Fortunately, there’s not much else with which to find fault in Block Legend. The sharp humor mixes so perfectly with the throwback art and creative gameplay that it’s instantly addictive. It’s also worth noting again that a complete lack of IAP—almost unheard of nowadays—calls attention to Dot Warrior’s straightforwardness. Block Legend may look similar to other games, like Combat Cats, but it beats them all in just about every imaginable category. Suck on that, Candy Crush.
Sweet and stylish gameplay plus great jokes at every turn make this game a true legend.