Déjà Vu, in a Good Way
When I first downloaded developer Rovio’s Supernatural City, I didn’t immediately realize that it was from the same developers who created Small Town Murders, another match-3 puzzle game that came out a few months ago. The story in that title focused on solving crimes rather than confronting supernatural mysteries. Small Town Murders was a gem, so I was thrilled to discover that there was another game in the same vein.
Supernatural City is identical to that game in almost every way. The general gameplay is the same, the puzzle boards are a similar style, even the boosters that you earn haven’t changed. Little adjustments, which likely came from feedback received about Small Town Murders, tweak the gameplay a bit. And you’ll notice surface changes like having to lay down carpet instead of grass or tackling steel fences rather than white picket.
In Supernatural City, Ellie Delmar has returned home to New Gateway in search of her missing father. She soon discovers that her dad had secrets, one of which involves Ellie’s growing power to sense and interact with ghosts. Now she must help both the living and dead to collect clues and uncover the truth.
To advance the story, you must solve match-3 puzzles, which grant stars and coins upon completion. Each plot point requires a different number of stars to unlock, ranging from one to three, and the coins pay for power-ups and extra lives. You can, of course, purchase coins and power-ups from the in-app store. However, the game can be played without spending a dime.
One of the biggest changes in Supernatural City is that you can now play as many puzzles as you want without being tied to the story. In Small Town Murders, you couldn’t advance the story without completing puzzles, but you also couldn’t just play as many puzzles as you liked without first advancing the story. Once I discovered I could do as many puzzles as I wanted in Supernatural City, I completed puzzle after puzzle and pushed the narrative completely to the side. I reached puzzle number 217 before I decided, OK, let me get back to the story.
That isn’t to say that Supernatural City’s narrative is boring. Far from it. Crime tales and supernatural goings-on are equally appealing to me. But I think it’s safe to say that somebody playing a match-3 game is primarily there for the puzzles. So given the chance to play an unlimited number, many people will do just that. While I personally appreciate this change, it means that some players might skip the story entirely and therefore miss out on some of the fun.
The varied game boards, each with a wide range of objectives to complete, are a strength of Supernatural City. Almost all of them present some kind of challenge. You might have to remove fences by matching tiles against them. Another puzzle may require that you move a specific number of keys from the top to the bottom of the game board, usually with obstacles blocking the path. Other hurdles are tiles frozen in ice, conveyor belts that constantly move the tiles, and holes in the board that you must navigate around. And you have a limited number of moves to complete each puzzle, adding to the difficulty.
Supernatural City offers different boosts or power-ups to help in your mission. There are two kinds: ones that you might have when you enter each puzzle and others that you create by making certain types of matches. The former consist of a glove to swap two tiles, a hammer to smash one tile, and a sledgehammer that destroys a full row and column of tiles without using a turn. The game won’t gift these to you very often; you’ll have to buy them with the coins you earn. I managed to get by without them the majority of the time.
The in-game boosts, on the other hand, are invaluable. Rockets destroy an entire column or row, bombs blow up tiles in their vicinity, and color bombs remove all tiles of a selected color. The fun comes once you discover how to create these boosts and combine them for more powerful effects. For example, combining a color bomb with a regular bomb replaces all tiles of the chosen color with bombs. This sets off massive explosions across the board. Using these boosts and combos strategically is often the key to completing puzzles.
Easy (Like Sunday Morning?)
A complaint frequently voiced on Rovio’s social media for Small Town Murders is that the puzzles are too difficult. I also found them many of them exasperatingly hard. Yet, while incredibly frustrating in the moment, stubbornly working to solve those tough puzzles left me with a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when I inevitably got through them.
The puzzles in Supernatural City have been made noticeably easier. Completing most of them presents no challenge. While this might appease many, maybe even a majority, of players, I find it a little disappointing. I can get through many of the puzzles almost mindlessly, often without paying close attention. Granted, I got stuck on some, particularly in later levels. But I usually breezed through even puzzles marked “very hard” or “super hard.” I didn’t often run out of lives, let alone need to purchase additional tries with the coins that I earned. So if Supernatural City’s gameplay is compelling but you find it a tad too easy, perhaps trying out Small Town Murders will satisfy that itch.
Supernatural City is the second game by developer Rovio that combines storytelling with solving match-3 puzzles. It is a successful formula, and I certainly look forward to future titles in the same vein.
Is It Hardcore?
Supernatural City offers a variety of match-3 puzzle boards, an interesting story, and a lot of fun. Some players, however, might find many of the puzzles a bit too easy to solve.