When game design veterans from all corners of the gaming world come together, the resulting studio and project could surprise you. The studio by the name of Mojaro consists of an impressive flock of individuals migrated from the likes of Sony, juggernaut EA, PS3 gurus Naughty Dog, and more. The resulting game is curiously a Match Three puzzle, multiplayer arena, RPG mashup called Puzzle Knights that recently hit iOS, and is definitely worth the equally unexpected Free price tag.
The base level play of Puzzle Knights is not surprisingly a colourful, if not simple match-3 puzzle. Eliminating pieces earns you stamina, which you are tasked to earn in limited turns, and later, limited time, in order to battle other players. Stamina in battle determines how many actions you are able to perform. The combat occurs as a series of “rock, paper, scissors” style moves(block, attack, and counter), which you and your opponent both choose a sequence of prior to battle. Each move takes up a chunk of the stamina bar, which can be expanded to allow additional actions as you level up. Then you sit back and watch as your choice of knight and your opponent’s do satisfying battle with the choreography you’ve both chosen. A win grants experience and some gold, and a loss results in next to nothing but an insultingly small amount of coin.
The puzzle is admittedly simple: your run of the mill match-3 with five different gems, and three different earnable(or buyable) special blocks to quickly clear the puzzle stage. High scores result in slowly accruing additional turns and time which are counted at the bottom right corner of the screen and are only useable at the end of a failed puzzle attempt as a “yes or no” option. Stamina is the only thing you can earn from completing the puzzle; no gold or exp. There are no hazards, special or rare gems that appear, and no dead or empty spaces.
What the puzzle does have however are very smooth tap-to-swap, and slide controls. The colours are pleasant to look at and the music and sound effects are equally mellow. To be sure it is not an industry-changing format, but what it does do is offer an exceptional foundation upon which to expand; both technically and in terms of options and variety.
The combat is less combat, and more of a blind queuing of three abilities in whatever order you see fit, and as many times as you have stamina to effectively perform. You can however queue past your stamina-allotted slots. The attacks that occur after your stamina depletes are simply reduced in effectiveness. It is difficult to surmise exactly what takes place as you and your opponent smash each other like gorillas, as there is an unpredictable element of chance regarding whether or not you will succeed with any given ability. At early levels, queuing a strategy is devilishly fun, and I for one absolutely loved getting into my opponents’ heads and totally sweeping a duel. On the other hand, more often than I would like to admit my strategy was shut down with authority. At higher levels your stamina bar is much, much more accommodating to long strings of abilities that in sequence look more like a symphony of sheet music than a three-pronged battle plan. I tried once using nothing but standard attacks: no blocking or countering or consideration whatsoever. To my glee I was awarded with a swift and pronounced defeat, even with my hard earned gear, which tells me that although combat has random elements, strategy is hugely important for progression.
While some additional combat abilities and instances would be welcome, the ease of use and quick matchups more than make up for any gaps in the action.
Finally, the RPG-esque customization is super addictive. There are currently six characters to choose from and build upon, two of which are available for free, the other four are buyable with gold. Gold builds up somewhat slowly, and with a hefty price tag, these additional characters might tempt the purchase of additional gold. There are also quite a few pieces of armour, swords and shields which offer obvious and immediate upgrades, while also being reasonably affordable.
Another cool element has to do with the time spent away from the game. When offline, your character is still in the mix and able to be attacked. As far as I understand, you’re awarded half of a stamina bar for these encounters and the last battle plan you built. When you return to the game you can see a breakdown of the battles that occurred- some wins, some losses- and are showed the name and level of your attacker. You then even have the option to claim revenge by attacking the player who defeated you. I made the mistake of doing so to a player who must have had a long night of Puzzle Knights when he battled me, because by the time I sought revenge he had already well surpassed my level, and even with only half stamina was able to soundly defeat me again.
Puzzle Knights is an awesome time killer, and a grinder’s dream. The gameplay is excellently segmented into puzzle play and then back into combat for quick and varied activity. The Armoury contains a wealth of upgrades which are exciting to window shop, and totally satisfying to actually earn. The game works through Facebook as well, allowing you to easily invite or attack friends from within the app, which I would strongly recommend.
Puzzle Knights also stands to gain much from improving the combat UI and adding more dynamic displays of damage and defence. Variety is key in puzzle games to keep them fresh, so some additional noise in the puzzle segment would be more than welcome as well. From there, improvement is a simple matter of content, content, content, which I have no doubt we’ll be seeing before too long.
Overall Puzzle Knights is a fantastic iOS game that is undeniable appealing to gear grinders, puzzle lovers, and PvPers everywhere. It is definitely worth the download. Remember, it’s free.