Doodle Kingdom, an addition to the series of Doodle apps created by JoyBits, offers players a medieval twist on the franchise of match-to-create puzzle games. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, imagine the old board game Memory, except with all of the cards flipped face-up. Instead of remembering where to find cards, your task is to match cards and hope that the pair will yield a new card. That’s it. That’s the Doodle series in a nutshell—fun stuff, right?
Where Doodle God and Doodle Farm gave players the power to create a respective universe or farm by mixing elements (which are really just picture tiles—no alchemy labs here) in a trial-and-error fashion, Doodle Kingdom adds magic to enable you to create a medieval fantasy land—or at least a fantasy land within the constraints of the game’s somewhat limited selections.
Mixing elements to create a fantasy land might sound omnipotent and enticing, à la Minecraft, but the game’s simple drag and drop mechanism is quick to bore. The main interface resembles an open book, each page the slate from which you select categories and elements to combine. The medieval-themed elements are interesting—Lava, Darkness, Sky, Elves, Pegasus, Phoenix, and Mithril Armor, to name a few—and the presentation is clean, but the gameplay leaves something to be desired. Namely, challenge.
Each element can combine with only one other element; in turn, the combination produces one or more potentially new elements. But not every element combination yields a result, and while guessing the remaining combinations might be meant to inspire critical thinking, anything goes in a fantasy land. When the game’s timed and purchasable hints run out, you’re reduced to elimination mode: “Is this a match? Nope. Is this a match? Nope,” ad nauseam. Unfortunately, the only way to unlock additional Quest gameplay is to keep combining elements until you discover the required new elements. When you finally unlock Quest mode, potentially while imagining all the epic medieval roadtrips that await, you’re greeted with… yet more elemental mix-and-matches alongside a micro story. Woo?
On the subject of locked gameplay, the game offers a staggering tier of in-app purchases for the in-game currency of gems. Already $1.99 for the standard version and $2.99 for the HD version, Doodle Kingdom markets gem package purchases with a price tag in excess of $1,000. Gems, in turn, only serve to unlock occasionally helpful hints in the matching, and purchase upgrades in the game’s runner mode.
While the game’s runner mode does offer something new for the Doodle series, and almost helps to make up for Kingdom’s creeping tedium, perils await the player expecting a challenge. In this side-scrolling mode called My Hero, your hero, the proverbial knight in armor, advances to fight automatically through an endless forested path of sword-stabbing destruction. Occasionally, he calls upon your tapping finger to help defeat bosses that require (finally) more interactive gameplay.
Though arguably mindless in its simple reflex-tapping, runner mode is a nice break from the mediocre task of mixing. In a rare example of Doodle Kingdom’s inspired gameplay, once My Hero mode is activated in each gaming session, your hero continues to run in the background, thus earning you spoils while you resign yourself to half-heartedly trying another elemental combination in the matching mode. How about Elves and Fire? Dwarves and Sky?
While you gather battle spoils with your quick reflexes and keep an eye on his vitals, your hero conquers static enemies of medieval origin (ghosts, skeletons, and various boss creatures of myth) for the almighty XP. In a much-needed show of interactivity, gold and gems earned from chests and combat along your hero’s way powers weapon and armor upgrades, while XP upgrades his basic battle stats.
But here in your hero’s item shop, where high-tier items value in the thousands of gems, the game’s ploy for in-app purchases becomes apparent. With only a handful of gems earned in the average session of runner mode, only mindless persistence (or a credit card) will help the dedicated player to unlock the goods. With such impossible stakes for something that is only fun for the first ten minutes, the runner gameplay doesn’t make up for where the matching mode fails to entertain.
After three hours of uninspired screen poking, Doodle Kingdom leaves a bad taste of repetitive gameplay and iffy in-app purchase tiers that border on scam territory. The replay value is incredibly limited; all accounted, the game’s “storyline,” or rough equivalent thereof, gives up only thirteen element categories in the main mode, three quests in Quest mode, and as much of My Hero runner mode as you can afford in item upgrades. Without shelling out some serious in-app cash for the latter, Doodle Kingdom earns a solid “That’s all I get for my $1.99?”
Between snooze-worthy picture matching and a level-up system crafted to shake down your wallet, Doodle Kingdom is certainly a ho-hum experience for expert thumbers, if not a complete waste of time altogether.