A Familiar Fresh Take
Small Giant Games’ Puzzle Combat delivers what seems to be a refreshing change to the classic formula of match three puzzle games. However, the developer has simply regurgitated the gameplay mechanics and interface of its fantasy-themed puzzle title, Empires & Puzzles, and changed the setting to a more modern one. I personally prefer the fantasy setting because it’s more my style. But for gamers who prefer guns to swords, Puzzle Combat might prove a better fit.
Players used to traditional match three games with tiles that fall from top to bottom might need a minute to adjust to Puzzle Combat. The tiles “fall” from bottom to top. Even having played Empires & Puzzles, it took me quite a few matches to wrap my head around this simple change. I still often revert to my habitual top-to-bottom perception of the board and therefore fail to predict where tiles will end up. It’s like suddenly having to navigate the world upside down.
This divergence from the norm might add novelty to the game, but it also serves a purpose. Enemies deploy at the top of the screen, and each match you make creates bullets or grenades that are the same color as the matched tiles. These projectiles shoot upward to hit the enemies.
This introduces another gameplay element that requires a slight change in mindset. In traditional match three games, the goal is to link up tiles whenever and wherever you find opportunity. In Puzzle Combat, however, the location of the tiles matters. For example, bullets created by matching tiles on the left of the screen will fly right past enemies on the right side and do no damage. Likewise, each enemy is weak to and strong against a particular color. So launching green bullets at an enemy resistant to green will do less damage than hitting him with red bullets. These two minor changes in the standard match three formula add an interesting strategic twist that makes the gameplay feel fresh.
Hero collection and leveling adds another fun feature to the typical match three blueprint. Each hero is tied to a color and matching those colors fills up an energy bar. When that bar is full, you can use the hero’s special ability, which might be a heal, an AOE, or a powerful single-target attack. You upgrade these abilities using resources rewarded after combat.
Gamers who download Puzzle Combat primarily for the match three puzzles may wind up a bit disappointed. Even with the gratifying addition of more tactical gameplay, the battles are relatively easy and quickly beaten. Given that each fight requires energy from a finite supply, you can only enjoy a handful of matches before your tank is empty. Then you must choose between waiting for your energy to regen or using coins, obtained by playing the game or spending real cash, to refill your pool more quickly.
Even without the frustrating obstacle imposed by limited energy, other elements further keep you from enjoying a simple match three battle when you want one. In addition to hero collection and leveling, Puzzle Combat features simplistic base building, crafting, and resource management. While these add a diversion that is at times entertaining, I found that overall they diminished my enjoyment of the game.
The appeal of match three is that it’s fast. You can hop in when you only have a minute or two, get in a quick game, and easily move on if needed. With Puzzle Combat, I’d launch the game for a speedy battle and instead be told to upgrade my barracks or level up a hero. Then my free minute or two was gone without having played a single game.
Puzzle Combat offers a semi-PVP component that allows players to take over watchtowers owned by other players. This is similar to how PVP in Marvel Puzzle Quest works, for example. Battles don’t occur in real time. Instead, you set up and save your defensive team. Then the game’s AI controls that team for you when other players engage you in combat. These battles usually prove to be more challenging and therefore more satisfying than standard matches.
You can also join an alliance in the game. Together, you and 29 other players confront massive war machines that appear every 24 hours. These require dozens of battles and the participation of multiple people to defeat. Taking one down rewards the alliance with numerous goodies for use in base building, crafting, and improving heroes. In-game chat allows alliance members to interact with one another, although nobody ever spoke during the several days that I played the game.
Puzzle Combat offers a new take on the tried and true match three puzzle game. Overall, it is entertaining and helps you pass the time. However, the addition of features like base building and improving heroes overpowers the match three element of the game. This creates an imbalance that I found more annoying than fun. As a result, I turned to other match three games to satisfy that craving and never had any urge to play this one again.
Is it Hardcore?
Puzzle Combat offers gamers something new by adding base building, hero collection, and resource management to the match three paradigm. But I found that these features, while slightly entertaining, overshadowed what I was here for—a simple match three game—and left me feeling unsatisfied.