This Dumb Industry: Fixing Match 3

By Shamus
on Mar 28, 2017
Filed under:
Column

I’m sure you’re familiar with Match-3 games. It’s this omnipresent thing in the world of mobile gaming. BeJeweled is the most famous example, although I think Candy Crush is the one that’s made the most money. There are literally hundreds of these things floating around out there in various cloned forms. They’re ideally suited to mobile gaming. The interface is simple, it’s colorful, you don’t depend on audio cues, and the rounds last about five minutes. That’s perfect for a game to play on your phone while waiting for the bus.

But these games are also sort of shallow and broken. Their gameplay is crippled by specific flaws that pushes the player into boring play. The most interesting play is different from the most rewarding way to play. It’s like a version of Space Invaders where the way to get the best score is to stand still and spam the attack button as fast as possible instead of dodging and aiming your shots.

Broken things

We`re on Bejeweled 3 already? Isn`t it about time for the dark gritty reboot?

We`re on Bejeweled 3 already? Isn`t it about time for the dark gritty reboot?

Broken thing #1: Lots of randomness.

When you clear some pieces, everything settles to the bottom, which opens up space at the top where new pieces fall in. It’s very likely that these new pieces will create additional matches, which will remove more pieces, which opens up more space, etc. The game strongly rewards this sort of thing. “COMBO×3!” And such. The vast majority of these combos are not things you orchestrated. They’re accidents. Sure, you could spend two minutes carefully studying the board to discover the one perfect move that will cause a chain of matches. But you could also spend those two minutes just randomly clicking on shit and you’ll get even more points.

So playing randomly is superior (in terms of score over time) to playing judiciously.

Broken thing #2: The game is at the bottom.

Since random moves score better (over time) than planned moves, it means that rather than look for the “best” (largest) match, your optimal strategy is you just watch the bottom of the board. Make the LOWEST matches you can, because matches at the bottom of the board will cause large changes to the rest of the pieces and increase the odds that all of that moving around will create more accidental matches and combos.

Broken thing #3: The board locks up.

You can only swap adjacent pieces, and you always want to do the lowest swaps possible. Eventually the new pieces will be in an arrangement where the bottom two rows just won’t have any valid swaps. There are no moves down there. So then you play a couple of rows above the bottom. But no matter how well you play, you’re not going to change the contents of those bottom two rows. They’re basically stuck. The inescapable trend over time is for more and more of the board to lock up. Your options get fewer and fewer.

Eventually there aren’t any decisions to make. Sure, I can match these three red ones or these three blue ones, but who cares? They give the same points and I have no control over what new pieces will drop from above. So not only is the game random, but it gets less interesting over time.

It’s actually possible for there to be no valid moves on the board. What happens then? Should the player lose? It’s not really their fault. They don’t have any control over what drops from the top. The band-aid solution is for the game to reset the whole board if it detects the player is stuck. That keeps the play going, but to me it seems to indicate a fundamental problem with the design.

Broken thing #4: Even more randomness.

Wow. I blew up half the board by clicking on shit at random. I`m the best bejewler ever!

Wow. I blew up half the board by clicking on shit at random. I`m the best bejewler ever!

As a way to fix the above problem, the games will add some sort of power-ups or specials. Maybe press a button and destroy all the red ones. Maybe use a “bomb” to blow up a 3×3 section. Maybe something to clear a row or column to get the board moving again. Whatever.

This sort of fixes the problem, in that the board no longer gets “jammed”. But this has the side effect of making the game even more chaotic and random. You’re now playing a game dominated by chaos.

They cover this up by making the game easy and making lots of sounds and colors and particle effects. WONDERFUL! (chimes) COMBO! (sparkle sound) SPECTACULAR! (rushing sound) COMBO×5! (fireworks)

You feel like you’re making stuff happen, but it’s ultimately shallow and sad. It’s a never-ending cascade of participation trophies.

You can test this by watching someone play. Based entirely on their moves, can you tell an expert player from a novice? If we’re talking about Sudoku, Tetris, or Mahjong, you can tell right away if someone knows what they’re doing. Sure, those games have random elements but the randomness doesn’t dominate the game. But Bejewled? It would probably take a while to spot a “good” player, and it would doubtless come down to how fast they’re clicking.

15 GEMS! Of course, I only matched 3 of them on purpose.

15 GEMS! Of course, I only matched 3 of them on purpose.

The more recent versions of Bejewled have added a timer. This sort of fixes the lack of skillful play. Even if the game is shallow and random, you can at least pressure the player to click on things FAST. But it just encourages even more chaotic, less analytical play.

Obviously the game is still popular. I’m not saying the people that made these games are idiots or anything. I’m just saying it’s a very ephemeral, disposable game. And that’s fine for something designed to be played in five minute bursts. But it’s hard not to look at this shallow clickfest and wonder if there isn’t a more interesting game you could make out of it.

As it turns out, there is. Someone has done it. They took the boring, played-out match-3 genre and revitalized it. They fixed the problems that incentivized boring play, they lowered the amount of randomness in the game so strategy was more important, and they used the whole board so the player always has lots of options to consider. Then they gave it a slick presentation, phenomenal music, and an inventory-based meta game to make every round feel interesting.

And then they attached it to a porn game about trying to bang anime girls.

HuniePop!

Note that from here on we’re going to have pictures of anime girls. Maybe this will make you uncomfortable. Maybe you’ll dig it. Maybe you don’t care. I’m just giving you fair warning before you scroll down and wind up with something on your screen that might cause you problems. I guess we’ll get the worst one out of the way first…

See, this LOOKS like an underage girl, but see she`s a fairy that`s really centuries old and yeah that seems like a pretty transparent excuse, doesn`t it?

See, this LOOKS like an underage girl, but see she`s a fairy that`s really centuries old and yeah that seems like a pretty transparent excuse, doesn`t it?

HuniePop is a game where you play as a loveless virgin. You can be a male or female, but since you never appear on-screen and all the ladies are player-sexual the choice is kind of abstract. Your goal is to have sex with a bunch of different anime girls by taking them on dates. These dates take the form of rounds of Match-3.

I don’t have a problem with these games and I certainly don’t look down on people who play them, but this really isn’t my thing. I’m a 46 year old man who’s been married since 1996. I’m actually really uncomfortable playing a game where you hit on all of these girls that look… much younger than 46.

At the same time, I have to give credit where it’s due for solid game design. Also somewhat selfishly, I’m hoping someone else will clone the HuniePop gameplay and put it into something less salacious. I’m not picky. Victorian murder mystery? Medieval dragon slaying? Cyberpunk police drama? Prohibition-era noir detective story? Modern military warfare? Alien invasion adventure? Whatever man. Just something besides tits.

So in the interest of encouraging a smarter breed of match-3 clone, let’s look at why HuniePop works.

I have NO idea why you MAKE money from going on dates. I don`t think the game even tries to explain that one.

I have NO idea why you MAKE money from going on dates. I don`t think the game even tries to explain that one.

1. It’s about EFFICIENT moves, not FAST moves.

Larger matches score WAY more than smaller ones. A match×4 is worth double what a match 3 is worth, and a match×5 is worth double THAT. Your goal isn’t to just make the first random move your eyes see, your goal is to find the BEST move. If you just do little match×3 moves you’ll never get anywhere.

2. It’s about planning ahead.

Instead of a timer, you have a fixed number of moves to reach a certain score. You’re not supposed to click randomly. You’re supposed to look at the board and think about how the pieces will move around. You’re supposed to plan ahead. If you can’t make a big move now, then you should be setting up a big move for your next turn, or a really big move for the following turn.

3. The game uses the whole board.

Instead of swapping two adjacent pieces, you can slide a piece anywhere along a row or column. All the other pieces will shift to make room. As long as this results in a match, it’s a valid move. This means the ENTIRE board is always in play. The bottom rows don’t lock up and you need to look at the whole board, not just the bottom.

4. It’s less random.

I haven’t done a statistical analysis on the game or anything, but it feels like fewer matches happen as a result of new pieces falling in from the top of the board. Or perhaps there are just as many, but they just don’t matter as much.

5. Your strategy changes as the round progresses.

Your goal isn’t to just make the highest-scoring matches the whole time. Early in a round you want to match hearts, which will boost your multiplier. You also want to be matching cyan pieces, because they give you access to your inventory of “powerup” gifts. It’s not until those resources are up that you’ll want to start working on scoring points directly.

6. The meta-game is kinda interesting.

There’s a very light RPG layer on top of all of this. Different girls have different preferences in terms of what color matches advance the date. For example, one loves green (which give double points) and doesn’t care about red (gives half points) so how you approach the game changes based on who you’re playing uh… with? Against? For? Honestly this “Match-3 game as a date” metaphor is confusing to me. At any rate, you can upgrade your character to make matches of a given color more effective, which also impacts how you play.

It’s a Real Game Now!

Nikki is my favorite. She doesn`t flirt, she doesn`t say anything sexy, and she seems as uncomfortable with the whole dating thing as I am.

Nikki is my favorite. She doesn`t flirt, she doesn`t say anything sexy, and she seems as uncomfortable with the whole dating thing as I am.

If you’re interested in playing the game but are put off by the pornAre bare cartoon breasts still considered porn? My smut-detector was calibrated in 1985 or so and I haven’t really updated it since then. then I’ll offer this advice: Don’t go on dates at night. (And if you do, make sure to fail the date.) Successful night dates are what triggers taking a girl home for sexy-times, and that’s where the game really made me uncomfortable.

Dear Developers: In the future, please clone HuniePop instead of Bejeweled and Candy Crush. Those games are broken. If you’re going to clone, clone the good one. I’d like a version of this game with less tits. Thank you.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] Are bare cartoon breasts still considered porn? My smut-detector was calibrated in 1985 or so and I haven’t really updated it since then.


A Hundred!209There are 129 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

From the Archives:

  1. TheAngryMongoose says:

    Have you given the Puzzle Quest series a try? (Or at least the first and maybe second game – there’s now a licensed series on mobile but I think those are worth steering away from)

    It takes a Match 3 board and turns it into a turn based RPG. Mana is collected by matching colours which can then be spent to cast spells, plus skulls which can be matched to deal damage directly

    Randomness is still felt (the game rewards you for a “cascade” which can never really be planned) – but there’s definitely a much more tactical element to the game. Matching 4 gives you an extra turn, so if you can keep chaining match 4s you can attempt to lock your opponent out. Because skulls deal damage directly, and you generally have less HP than enemies, you want to try and make sure your opponent never gets to match them (Particularly the punishing +5 skulls).
    But on top of all of this you’ve got a huge a list of spells (and weapons and mounts and ‘enemy skills’) to choose from to take into battle. Some are simple deal damage/heal/poison w/e, but you also get spells that effect the board e.g. turn every green gem red, and blue gem into a skull. Combined with the above, my favourite tactic was to build a board (fighting my opponent to do so), where firing such spell would get me a 4 match (Extra turn), set up another 4 match, and return enough mana of the right colour that I could fire the spell off again. This would make the tactics a much more long term thing.
    Planning correctly, you could find yourself able to fight battles indefinitely, which was helpful if you wanted to “siege” the various towns, which had riddiculously high health pools.

    I was a huge fan of the first game, though I never really got into the second because I made the mistake of getting the mobile version (They weren’t great ports).

    • Raion says:

      … it’s been ten years, smarphone and mobile gaming have caught on, yet I still haven’t found a worthy successor to the original puzzle quest, even if it’s very guilty of some of these criticisms.

      Having the random epic combos happen on the enemy’s turn is so aggravating.
      I remember the devs having to step in and explain how the code works, reassuring the players that the AI doesn’t cheat, a complaint that has always followed the series.

      • Oliver Edleston says:

        Gems of War is a very good sequel/clone/etc of the Puzzle Quest formula. I’d absolutely suggest giving it a look if you enjoyed PQ.

      • TheAngryMongoose says:

        I remember that! It was pretty funny. I feel like most games these days wouldn’t have it be random; they’d normalise and skew in the players favour. Make it ‘feel’ fair right?

        In the end I chose to think of it as like a crit in a normal RPG, awesome if I get it, dramatic when the opponent does, and a small element to think about if things are going poorly. Can definitely understand the frustration, but it was not nearly as big a part of the game as it was for Bejeweled.

      • Nixorbo says:

        To echo the post earlier up the chain, how about Gems of War? It’s made by the same people who did the original Puzzle Quest. It’s free to play, but it’s one of those unicorns where you’re not punished for not paying.

        • Yeah, I came in here to mention Gems of War myself. It’s one of the few match-three games I’ve found that actually holds my interest, for all the reasons others have specified. I don’t have to pay to succeed; I can engage in and experiment with weird wonky deck-building; there’s a certain amount of overarching strategy involved when it comes to when-to-match-colors vs. when-to-unleash-attacks; there’s zero fast-twitch or timer-based anything involved. (It’s also literally the only video game my fiancee has ever decided is worth her time and energy to plonk away at with regularity on her own.)

      • Falterfire says:

        I’ll triple-echo Gems of War. Although it does have some issues with some rarer units being more powerful, for the most part the number of options and the sheer amount of free keys you get mean that even without putting in money you can get more than enough tools to feel like you’re choosing a strategy instead of just picking the guys with the biggest numbers.

        Plus it does something I think is very important for a PvE strategy game to allow you to do, which is find strategies and ability combinations that let you feel like you’re getting away with something the devs didn’t intend.

    • Jarenth says:

      I’ve got little to add to this except that I’m now humming the Puzzle Quest menu music in my head, so thanks for that.

    • Primogenitor says:

      Puzzle Kingdoms is the game I would recommend. Instead of a “person” RPG it is an “army” RPG. You pick the composition of your forces (unlocking more over time, paying for replacements etc) and once you’ve matched enough of a particular colour, you can spend those matches on “attacking” with a troop – and different troops costs different amounts of different colours (goblins cost red, etc). As commander you have magical special abilities you can spend your matches on which change the board (e.g. change blues to red which might then trigger matches with reds already on the board).

      Unlike other match-3 games, it uses a “slide a row or column by 1” mechanic. This means that the player may inadvertently setup something for later, or screw themselves, or a really good player can trigger multiple matches with a single move.

      In addition, its got a few variants of the “match 3” as minigames (e.g. lock picking) which are interesting to see what works and what doesn’t.

    • Blakeyrat says:

      For completeness, 10,000,000 is a game that seems to hit most or all of the points Shamus is talking about here, and it did come out before HuniePop. It’d be interesting to see which games the HuniePop devs played while designing, because I’d be surprised if 10,000,000 and Puzzle Quest/Gems of War wasn’t on the list.

      http://store.steampowered.com/app/227580/

      On a slightly-related note, mobile and indie gaming is SO HUGE NOW that it seems impossible to make a definitive “this is the first game to do X right” statement, just because there’s probably a dozen games in the genre you haven’t played and if you’re like me and have a Windows Phone, twice that you haven’t even heard of. :) It was easier when we only got a hundred new games a year instead of ten thousand…

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        No,10000000 is exactly the type of game Shamus mentions as bad in his first part of this.You can just randomly match whatever,and youll eventually get enough of everything to do everything.Because the game is on a timer,you just spam whatever and eventually youll cascade through the right thing.Worse,because you get resources to upgrade your shit this way,youll always be able to just brute force through any challenge by overleveling.

        • Noumenon72 says:

          I definitely felt like I was taking different approaches by focusing on shields or saving my magic matches for big enemies. I even replayed it. Now the sequel about the boat, that was terrible.

    • FelBlood says:

      I really like the first Puzzle Quest, in no small part because it was the first matching game I played where special moves were cast from resources, rather than being attached to tiles on the board.

      However, the randomness of the AI, combined with the danger of creating big combos, because it refreshes more of the board for the AI, started to chafe long before I got to explore all of it’s content.

      The HUGE reward for a 5 in a row was a good decision, as the extra turn negated the risk of setting up a move for the enemy, by making such a large move.

      However, as the series went on, I felt like it was trying to be more random and less deep, and I abandoned the series when I got exposed to Galactrix. That game was ass on a stale chip.

  2. Daimbert says:

    As I was reading the first part of the post, my thought was “Well, Huniepop worked!”. And then … [grin].

    That being said, while I have less experience with them I think that more traditional Match-3 games can avoid a lot of the problems you mention here. The best ones, I think, are the ones where there’s a time limit but your time increases as you match, and increases more the more you match. That way, you end up with the skill being trying to balance thinking time — which lets your time run down — with how much more your time will increase if you make a really good move. The problem I had with Huniepop’s move system is that it forces you to be too careful and too precise; as the puzzles get harder, you can’t afford to make a less than ideal move, and so if you box yourself in you can ruin that run.

    Also, with vertical matches you can often unlock the locked bottom rows if the right colours fall in the right places, but again there you run into the issue of randomness.

    I wouldn’t mind more games with this sort of mechanism, as substituting the standard combat mechanisms in RPG/Dating Sim style games is interesting. Catherine is another example, where they replaced the standard combat with a tower-climbing game. The problem is that you have to do it right, otherwise you end up killing the game with the non-standard gameplay mechanism. Catherine’s tower mechanic was so hard that even though there are multiple endings I never wanted to play it again, and my opinion on Huniepop is that the puzzle parts are too prominent for dating sim fans — like me — while the dating sim elements are too prominent for Match 3 fans. For me it wasn’t that much of an issue — I can tolerate both — but if a company could use a non-standard gameplay mechanism and get it right, I think it would pay off.

    As for the Huniepop characters, Aiko and Nikki were the ones I liked the best, although I didn’t really like how with Nikki they essentially made her introversion into “I hate other people”, which they didn’t need to do and arguably didn’t work as well as making her more of a character who liked to be alone more than around lots of people. And for Aiko, that was mostly the voice actress; the personality was okay, but for me the voice and inflections just worked.

    • Daimbert says:

      Oh, and as it turns out that “timed increase” thing was actually from Huniepop too. It’s used in the “bedroom” scenes with the women.

      • TMC_Sherpa says:

        I hated those so much. Lets spend an hour teaching you to play the game slowly and methodically NOW DO IT FASTER OH GOD FASTER DONT THINK JUST SLIDE GO GO DO IT NOW

        • Daimbert says:

          I think — although it’s been a while so I might be remembering wrong — that for me it was the loss of the special items that most annoyed me, and yes the shift was rather abrupt, but found that it did have that dynamic that I talked about above: since higher scoring moves advanced the timer/bar more, you wanted to make those moves, but you didn’t want to spend too much time looking for them because the bar would shrink too much. So it promoted a “quickly look for the best one available and take it” approach, which was interesting to me.

        • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I’m pretty sure that’s a metaphor. Or perhaps it’s a little too on the nose for a metaphor and its just a single entendre…

  3. Syal says:

    More things that weren’t mentioned; you can slide a piece to anywhere in its row or column, meaning every move can move anywhere between two and eight tiles. Also, there’s a heavily broken combo of special powers that very nearly negates most of the mechanics, it’s great. Also Hard Mode only unlocks by sleeping with every character, including the secret ones. Also the unlocks for the secret characters are unintuitive bullshit.

    I’m going to mention Jewel Quest here, which made it so you had to match a tile on every square on the board in order to clear it, and then added pits and things you had to dig into, with pieces at the bottom that had to be matched multiple times.

  4. Arumin says:

    Perhaps try “Marvel Puzzle Quest” ? It’s a match 3 game where you play with Marvel heroes (and bad guys) to battle other characters. They all have special powers that are activated by matching their color so sometimes its better to make a top match of red to give Iron man his special power to blast some monster in his face, then to make a bottom row purple one.
    It’s on mobile, so there is some paid content, but sofar I’ve been playing for a while without spending a dime.

    • Zekiel says:

      I loved Marvel Puzzle Quest and felt it was reasonably tactical. But it really does push itself on you – while I didn’t spend any money I did spend a lot of time on it that I shouldn’t have. Because your rewards are random you’re encouraged to grind by replaying levels, and then you get timed events where the rewards increase (or your odds of getting good rewards increase) the more you play. That meant that I found myself feeling “well I’ve played 2 levels of this 5-level event, so that’s kind of wasted if I don’t play the other 3 levels” (which offer increasingly good rewards but can only be played in the next 18 hours). That’s not helpful for someone with limited free time and home-life responsibilities.

      Not to disrespect anyone who likes the game, it just wasn’t a healthy game for me, and by extension there are probably other people out there who it wouldn’t be healthy for either!

    • Hal says:

      I was about to suggest MPQ as well. However, I stopped playing, so it’s worth iterating why.

      1. Slot machine heroes
      You get more heroes (and more powers for your heroes) by earning points/tokens/etc. to play on a random grab bag. Maybe you’ll get something great! Maybe you’ll just get another copy of the hero you maxed out weeks ago. There’s no way to be strategic about it.

      And this doesn’t get better if you actually put money into the game, because you can’t buy specific characters, you just buy more runs at the slot machine.

      2. Power creep
      To keep the game interesting, they introduce new heroes. The new heroes inevitably have powerful abilities, often eclipsing the existing characters. In short, unless you keep up with the newest characters, you might find yourself lacking in the power department. Why should that matter? Because . . .

      3. Competitive play
      Although most of the game is single player, you’re still ranked on a leader board for each of the “events.” After a period of time, the players who accumulated the most points are ranked and given subsequent rewards, so there’s a strong incentive to get high scores. Except, obviously if you don’t have a lot of strong heroes, you’re coming in behind the curve and will struggle to catch up. Worse, most of the rewards aren’t really meaningful until a certain level. Worse still, even having powerful heroes isn’t enough; you have to be in a position to grind on the game all day long, because that’s the only way to get to the top of the leader board.

      4. Lack of content
      Let’s say you don’t care about any of that and you just want to Match 3 and punch bad guys in the face. Fine, you can do that to your heart’s content. But the game really lacks for content. There’s a default story that never goes away (and gets finished quickly), and one or two rotating stories that cycle every week or so. The problem is that it doesn’t take long to see everything there is to see there, and new content does not release very often. (You might wonder how hard it could be to make content for a game in this style. I have no idea, but you’d think it would be easy.)

      5. Treadmilling
      There’s also the usual mobile BS about daily rewards to encourage you to log in and play every day. Once I found myself being bored by the content and facing excruciatingly long grinds to upgrade my heroes sufficiently, I opted to just uninstall it. The gameplay itself was satisfying enough, but the metagame surrounding it and the lack of actual content put me on a treadmill of just upgrading heroes for the sake of upgrading heroes. I quit WoW for the same reason; when I look back at the accomplishments of my life, I don’t want it to be said that my greatest victory was having all of the three and four star heroes at max level.

    • Primogenitor says:

      I only looked at it briefly a long time ago, but Marvel Puzzle Quest has (or at least had) the hilarious design flaw of storing purchased content locally. So if you move from one computer to another, everything you had “bought” vanished. But it also meant that in 5 minutes with a hex editor and a tutorial you could give yourself piles of “premium” currency for free.

      • Alan says:

        At some point they added optional cloud saves, although it requires a Facebook account. (At least for the iOS version.) At this point I’m keeping my Facebook account open just for my MPQ saves. :-p

    • Alan says:

      The critiques of MPQ are legit, but I’ve been playing for about a year without giving them a penny and having a grand time. There are a lot of good ideas in there.

      You field a team of 3 heroes. Different heroes do different amounts of damage for different colored gems. They also have different powers that are charged by different color gems. Do you pick heroes with powers you really want, or try to diversify to maximize your damage and ensure no matter what color you match you’ll charge at least one power?

      Opponents have similar rules, so you might want to avoid green so Bulleye’s fscking defensive power doesn’t auto-activate, but you might want to minimize the amount of blue on the board so Daken’s power can’t activate.

      When dealing with unnamed mooks, gameplay is similar to most match three; they just charge and use powers at a kinda constant rate. But when a named enemy shows up, they play just like you do, making matches. So now you’re having to consider what moves you’re leaving your opponent. You certainly want to avoid giving them a 5-match and a bonus turn.

      Your powers often put special tiles on the board, tiles you typically want to protect until they count down to a good effect. Conversely, your opponents put bad tiles on the board that you want to eliminate, sometimes before their countdown goes off.

      I recommend it. The one thing I wish I’d known early on: gold coins are the true precious commodity. Never spend them on anything other than buying more slots for heroes.

      • Alan says:

        Oh, and another bonus: the art has all of the… issues of superhero comic book art. But I don’t feel the need to hide what I’m doing when playing in public. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable playing Huniepop while waiting for an appointment.

    • King Marth says:

      The same team did Magic: The Gathering Puzzle Quest, and it’s similarly pseudotactical. You still rely on random chains from nowhere (especially off of four-matches which clear the row) to get absurd amounts of mana to cast all your cards, but matches give you the resource and then you can choose how to cast the spells you get.

      All the same problems apply as well, but it was fun while waiting for Fire Emblem Heroes.

  5. Happy says:

    Have you tried Doctor Who Legacy? It has a very light story element (which is no sillier than the show – All of Space and Time is in Danger! Match 3 to save the day!), a Collectable element (collect and level up various characters from the show), and the Match 3 part builds in complexity rather than randomness. You make a team made from one Doctor and 4-5 Companions, and your choice of team determines a lot about gameplay. If all of your characters are red, then only the red matches will give you points, but they’ll count for a LOT. I think it’s currently ad-ware, (loads of ‘free’ content) with a small sum to turn off ads and open up a Fan Area, and there are some extra DLC storylines.

    I played it for well over a year, and the main reason I stopped was it getting hard on my eyes (or my eyes getting hard on me…) rather than disinterest in the game. Though now that I’ve thought about it again, I might give it another go. I never did finish all of the Expert levels…

    • Dev Null says:

      I’ll second that one. It has the element of sliding (jewels? dots? whatever…) across the board, but if I remember correctly you can slide a thing along an arbitrary path, displacing everything it moves through, so you can set up some amazing combos through clever moves involving convoluted paths that writhe all over the board. No dead space on the board either, since you could drag through anything from anywhere. I played it for ages, unlocked all the characters available at the time, and happily gave them some money. Only stopped because they lost my account and all of my progress and I couldn’t be bothered to start over. But the gameplay was SO much more interesting and tactical than a standard match-3.

    • Dev Null says:

      Damn you. Now it’s back on my phone again…

    • Chris says:

      I’m gonna third this recommendation – There’s definitely a lot more skill involved in this game than in some others, and it’s got a lot more depth to it as well. Being able to move pieces all over the board in a single “move” (which is time-limited from when you pick a gem to drag) rewards smart play and good pattern recognition – while a newbie might just go for one match, a skilled player will be doing loops all across the board to ensure they get multiple matches in each turn. The RPG elements are relatively light, but well done – in addition to having various special abilities, each of the huge number of characters has their own attack, defense, and healing values, and as they level up you can choose which to invest in. Plus, you can increase your player level, which results in more customizations that affect overall gameplay (altered droprates, situational bonuses, etc).

      As an example, my main team consists of blue, green and black characters, and my personal customizations give me damage and healing boosts for creating a 5-block “T” shape. I can’t directly benefit from two-fifths of the damaging colours, but clearing them increases my combo multiplier and I have characters who can transmute them into useful colours on a cooldown. I also have to choose between focusing on lining up multiple three-block combos (optimal single-target damage), or focusing on a fewer 5+ block combos (hit all enemies on the field, plus trigger my T bonuses).

      Enemies also have elemental resistances to consider, and abilities to mess with you beyond damage. They can do things like lock gems in place (which also heavily limits combos around them, since running into a locked gem ends your turn early), turn gems to stone (they still benefit your combo multiplier, but otherwise do nothing but take up space), freeze specific characters to prevent them from contributing for n rounds, or just outright turn some gems into bombs that must be cleared immediately. Plus, even with damage focused enemies, you’re making choices of “do I try to take out their big damage character first to save myself, or should I accept the hits to take out their status specialist so I don’t start the next round of this level with a bunch of useless/harmful gems”

      • Happy says:

        Oh yeah, T shape for me as well! And Black/Green is a good team, but so is Blue/Yellow. In fact that one got so powerful that I stopped using it because it was too easy. I’m definitely going to have to go back to that game, if my eyes can handle it. I just have too much of a puzzle itch now.

  6. Christopher says:

    I was scrolling past this thinking “I’ve never played a match 3 game in my life, this is clearly not relevant to me”, and then the cartoon porn* showed up. Way to get me to read a long article about a mobile game I don’t play.

    I think the last time Huniepop was brought up, some other person and I mentioned Might and Magic Clash of Heroes as a good alternative. Upon reflection, and after this explanation of the systems, it’s a very different thing.

    * Okay, let’s go with manga/anime rules on this(although as far as I know zero of the developers of Huniepop have anything to do with Japan besides art style influence). There’s a category called ecchi that includes all sorts of fanservice or erotic content that doesn’t actually involve the act. That includes anything from harem romance shows like Love Hina to sex comedies like Golden Boy, BDSM romcom Nana to Kaoru or just fanservice-heavy shows like Fairy Tail or Food Wars! So it can be super mild or very explicit, and in either case it is the same category of hopefully-sexy-but-not-actually-porn.

    If it depicts the train entering the tunnel, then it’s hentai(porn). I’d be surprised if Steam actually allowed that on their store. As an example, anime streaming service Crunchyroll don’t give care if a show is ecchi or not, they’ll let any butt fighting show in. But they have zero hentai. I’d say it’s the difference between a romantic movie with implied/brief sex in it(Or like, Baywatch or something) and a porn video.

    • guy says:

      I vaguely recall hearing that Huniepop is one of those games that has an M-rated Steam version with an external patch on their own servers that is firmly adult only.

      • Bubble181 says:

        The “patch” is “the presence of an empty text file with the right name in the game folder”, and the uncensored version is “the same pictures you get censored, but with the panties removed and/or a…*cough* dollop of yoghurt added to the proceedings”.

        While it’s definitely more adult, I (as a modern Western European) don’t really consider it all that much racier than the censored version.

    • Fizban says:

      I don’t know exactly what constitutes an “M” rating, but I’m fairly sure plenty of “ecchi” will blow right past it. The ecchi/hentai description is predicated on very narrow definitions of what must be censored (and actual Japanese ratings have two degrees of adult with 15+ and adult adult IIRC), while American ratings are based on however skittish the ratings board is.

      That is to say, there’s plenty of “non-hentai” that is absolutely “cartoon-porn” by the intent of the work, just skirting under the edge of Japanese censorship laws to hit a wider audience.

      • Christopher says:

        I don’t really know how the American ratings work and what makes it over, but at least some stuff do. Senran Kagura and Galgun 2 made it, and I remember lots of minor controversies where localizers “censor” their developers games, presumably to get a rating that will allow them to sell the games in question.

        But yeah, ecchi is a really broad tag. Nana to Kaoru is basically romantic porn with bondage substituting for sex. Meanwhile, Fairy Tail is just a regular shonen fighting thing with lots of attractive women in it. I’m certain the really explicit ones can edge over into hentai territory even without a direct portrayal of sex, at least as far as ratings are concerned.

  7. Jarenth says:

    I worked in a video games museum in the summer of 2004, and they had a Match-3 arcade cabinet in the basement that — I can’t for the life of me remember the name of, but I remember did a lot of high-score chasing on that one. It solved some of your problems by making two changes: 1) You were allowed to make any swap at any time, even if it that didn’t result in a match, and 2) in every level you could activate (at will) a short-term ‘point boost’ powerup (the only powerup of any kind in the game), that would double your score for like… thirty seconds or so. It encouraged a more preparatory kind of play, where you needed to get matches to extend your play time, but also you’d want to set up big combos and then trigger the bonus to cash in. There was a definite difference in highest scores between people who managed that, and people who just speed-matched over and over.

  8. Jack says:

    Puzzlestuck is a weird match-3: The game pauses while you analyze the board, then you have four seconds to swap tiles as much as you want before the matches disappear. You fight monsters with a party of four characters, which use different colors to attack and fuel their abilities.

  9. el_b says:

    the moment they make a yaoi version of that im there lol.
    that does sound pretty good, i really like the rpg style to it. when my hands were worse and i couldnt play even for short periods i did try bejewelled and it really breaks apart cause of its flaws even as mindless time wasting. its frustrating to just lose cause the game just decided you should, and the worst part is it can happen within 2 minutes or 20 no matter what moves you make.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      Pop 2 was supposed to have boys in it but I have no idea where they are with that. The second game was Hunnie Camstudio which was a clicker that didn’t push any mechanics in an interesting way. It wasn’t nearly as well received.

  10. silver Harloe says:

    Have you tried “Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates” ( http://www.puzzlepirates.com/ ) It’s a sort of MMO where when you do something like enter a sword fight or try to sail a ship, you get a little puzzle game, and later you could also set up shops and play puzzle games to keep them in stock.

    One of their ship-board puzzles was bilging which was a match 3 with the simple twist that you could make non-scoring moves (swap two pieces to set up a big move). It wasn’t quite as open as HuniePop, but it felt like it “fixed” match 3 play just with that tiny change.

  11. Fast_Fire says:

    Based entirely on their moves, can you tell [an] expert player from a novice?

    Novices make a lot of moves very quickly. Experts leave and play something more worth their time.

  12. Limeaide says:

    It saddens me that barely anyone ever played Meteos and fewer people remember it, because it was a hell of a game.

    Meteos makes a few changes to the standard match three formula:
    – Instead of the board always being full, blocks fall from top and gradually fill it in
    – You can move blocks as much as you want within the same vertical column
    – Instead of blocks disappearing when you make a match, they turn into rockets and launch into space, taking all the blocks on top of them along for the ride.
    – Launched stacks of blocks are effected by physics, and will sometimes need multiple matches to shunt into space. The more blocks on the match you make, the heavier the stack will be and the harder it’ll be to get into space

    These days when you google Meteos you get a League of Legends player, which says pretty much all you need to know about this game’s lasting legacy.

    • Cybron says:

      I remember this… But only because you mentioned it! A friend of mine had it and you could do that “one guy has the game” multiplayer some DS games did. It was pretty fun.

    • Gobberlerra says:

      Well, for what it is worth: Meteos’ League of Legends name was based off the game (well his WoW name that was based off the game).

  13. Paul Spooner says:

    “less tits” should be “fewer tits.” Unless you mean you want the boobs to be less pronounced, where it would be “lesser tits”.

  14. Jamey says:

    I think there’s an extra word near the end of the third text block:
    “random elements elements,”

    I’ll also chime in and say that I found puzzle quest somewhat of an improvement over the baseline match-3, but it only fixes one or two of your points, not all.

  15. HuniePop! We’ll do things you’re other match-3’s wont…

  16. Tizzy says:

    Did anyone play Candy Crush? I have not, but I’ve seen it played and it seems to me that they put a lot of innovation in to push back the limits of the bejeweled clone design. Someone who knows the game better needs to confirm or deny, but the game may have added more than just clever monetization and rabid social engagement.

    • Hal says:

      I’ve watched my wife play a lot of it, so here’s what I’d say:

      Yes, lots of innovation in terms of altering the board space (i.e. not just a 10×10 grid) tile variety (i.e. lots of special tiles) and varying victory conditions (i.e. not just high score), but it’s still a very passive game. In other words, you are still at the mercy of the board to provide you with a good layout, and your total interaction with the board is to match 3.

      • Kriellya says:

        Just gonna echo this as someone who has played it. The board adjustments allow for a little more variance in levels, the Objective feature gives the sense that you are trying to accomplish a goal instead of just randomly flailing, and the move limit on most maps punishes moves that don’t further the objective. Between the three, there is actually some interesting level design space that the game does occasionally use for match-3 puzzles that reward strategic planning a more than random chance.

        As a brief example, one of the Objective types is to move a non-match object from a source to a sink. The variance in board shape can mean that you have to move that object into a particular lane or it won’t be clearable. All the random combos in the world won’t change what column the objective is in on some boards, so you have to plan out how you’re manipulating it to accomplish the objective.

        That said… this is far and away the minority of the boards, especially as the game goes on. (and boy does it go on. I think there are a few hundred levels at this point) Most boards are essentially up to chance as to if you will be able to complete them or not this time, and that’s before we get into the power-ups, which are the game’s primary revenue source. Any level can be completed trivially if you’re willing to throw enough money at it, either by purchasing more moves to complete the objective through normal play, or purchasing enough power-ups to just force the objectives to complete eventually.

        So… yeah. It’s a good indication of what you *could* do with a match-3 game to make it less random and more strategic, but which has absolutely no interest in actually doing that because it wouldn’t serve its business model.

  17. kdansky says:

    I’ve actually tried to play the game badly on purpose (only ever match 3 even if there are 4+ available, and as high up as possible), and it did not make a difference in my high scores or win-rate. The randomness completely dominated whatever influence I had.

    I think there is a huge misunderstanding at the bottom of this though. Candycrush does not even try to be a good game. It only wants to be a good skinner box. The best way to be addictive is to be random, slightly frustrating, and incredibly visual.

    They hit their design goal perfectly, it’s just that their design goal was: “Make a game that is utterly trivial to play so even an actual monkey could win it, yet at the same time make it seem like it’s super deep, and complex, by covering it all in so much randomness that our brains can’t tell depth from chance apart any more.”

    Side-note: Americans are so prude… It’s just cartoon boobs.

    • Tizzy says:

      I’m a non-prude European, and I quite appreciate boobs in general. That being said, when you’re reaching my or Shamus’ age, looking at those cartoons does feel a bit skeevy.

    • Warstrike says:

      They also essentially only give power ups if you buy them, so they are at the profitable part of “You can either play this level until the stars align , or you can purchase something to break the level and win now”. It introduces a power up, gives you 2-3 of them, and you can never earn another one within the game’s mechanics. Ever.

    • Armagrodden says:

      If you get to the “take a girl home” portion of the game it rewards you with a money shot, and the earworm musical score is replaced by the VA moaning and/or critiquing your performance. Depending on where you are, this could be a little harder to explain than “I’m playing match 3 against a cartoon girl who’s wearing more clothes than my coworker’s phone wallpaper 90% of the time.”

      Your character’s puzzling inability to fail out of sex was actually one of the most frustrating portions of the game. The dates have a move counter so they have to end eventually, but if you start a session of romance with an anime girl and get a bad board (or just aren’t playing a good game) you can get stuck for several minutes listening to her comment about how maybe you should have just rented a movie, with no end in sight short of quitting the game and restarting from save.

  18. sheer_falacy says:

    My preferred match 3 game is Puzzle & Dragons. Rather than having you move one orb one space, or even one orb along one row or column, it gives you 4 seconds (or longer when you get a better team in the game) to move one orb wherever you want. The 4 seconds doesn’t start until you pick up the orb, so you can spend as long as you want planning, and then you execute. If you’re good enough you can get every possible match 3 on the board (up to 10 on the 6×5 board, though you often don’t have multiples of 3 of some colors).

    It also incentivizes going for different things than pure match count, depending on your team – making a row of orbs, matching exactly 4 or 5 of some colors, or even making a cross of exactly 5 orbs. This all depends on the leader of your team. It means you do a lot of important stuff outside of the actual puzzle element.

    It’s a pretty cool game, though NA gets treated pretty badly (all content comes 2 months after JP gets it, some content never comes at all) and some of their decisions are perplexing.

    • evilmrhenry says:

      I was going to recommend that as well. The board doesn’t lock up, and you’re not really restricted by the randomness. You can match tiles from across the board, assuming you’re fast enough. The goal is less to make a match, and more to make as many matches as possible.

    • Nixitur says:

      To explain this a bit further, this article mentions how it’s interesting that HuniePop allows you to move the block anywhere on the same row or column. In Puzzle & Dragons, you can move the block all over the place, displacing and moving other blocks wherever it goes. A skilled player is going to do mad loop-de-loops on their screen and getting an insane number of matches. You get all the time in the world to think about your four-second move.
      The framing device for the game is that you’re controlling a team of heroes fighting monsters. You have one leader and five more characters with special powers that depend on the board state and either just do more damage depending on what you accomplish (sometimes depending on what colors you match, I believe) or even change the board state if you do it right.
      It’s an extremely interesting game and quite tricky, from what I’ve heard. And you can absolutely tell a novice player from a skilled one.

      It’s free to play, but I don’t quite know how bad it is with its monetization. I have personally never played it, so I don’t actually know, but I believe you get a certain number of dungeon runs per day or something like that? It doesn’t seem too bad from what I’ve heard.

      • Sheer_falacy says:

        The monetization is definitely there, but it’s not really that important for number of dungeon run per day. You get one stamina every 3 minutes, and early dungeons cost 3-10 stamina while endgame ones cost 50 or 100 (or one at 200). But you also refill your stamina whenever you level up, and there are dungeons that can continuously level you up til a high rank. And you can multiplayer to halve stamina costs.

        The main place the monetization shows up is getting monsters for your team. Most of the best monsters come from the rare egg machine, which takes 5 magic stones per pull. You get a decent amount of stones for playing but if you want good stuff without needing to save up for a long time it’s a dollar per stone (or a slight discount in bulk).

        And yes, you can really tell a skilled player from one who isn’t. There are people who stream this. Watching someone play Anubis can be quite impressive – that’s a leader who gets no benefit at all unless you can match a ton of combos.

  19. SpammyV says:

    I gotta say the part that turns me away from Huniepop is less the boobs and more the art style in general. To me it all has a very processed, unnatural look. Like a team of people came up with anime-style images instead of someone making art with style or soul. Some other games, even Japanese ones (Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin for instance) have this soulless problem. It’s like the Velveeta of art to me, just a processed art product.

    • Christopher says:

      I know what you mean. It kinda makes me wanna dig deeper into the artists in question(who are Indonesian, I think, but I might be wrong) to see what their other artwork is like. Me and a pal once talked, like way you do, about making our own visual novel/dating thing. He figured he could write it, and I figured I could draw it. But actually designing attractive characters for a game… My art style is already a little anime, but when I tried to make VN characters, boy did it ever become anime. I think it’s easy to try and follow the art style that kinda games has traditionally had and fall flat on your face because it’s not your normal style. Besides, it’s kind of a tradition to have shitty VN art even, considering it’s a pretty indie genre.

      I have no clue what happened with Portrait of Ruin/Dawn of Sorrow, but anime faces with expressions was a bad trade for the beautiful static portraits of earlier games. Luckily, they hired a great artist to do the portraits for Order of Ecclesia, and even commissioned a few expression while they were at it. Best of both worlds.

    • Kyte says:

      In my eyes it looks like a western artist trying to do the anime aesthetic without really getting it, so it comes off as not quite there and generally amateurish, although I couldn’t pinpoint as to the exact reason for this.

      • SpammyV says:

        I think that might also have something to do with it. At least mentally when it feels like something is trying to pander for that reaction, to make everything moe, I start mentally checking off a list in my head and go “Nah I’m not doing this.” I didn’t want to do the Emi route the first time I played Katawa Shoujo for that reason.

  20. Pyrrhic Gades says:

    But these games are also sort of shallow and broken. Their gameplay is crippled by specific flaws that pushes the player into boring play. The most interesting play is different from the most rewarding way to play. It’s like a version of Space Invaders where the way to get the best score is to stand still and spam the attack button as fast as possible instead of dodging and aiming your shots.

    Wait, you mean that isn’t the best way of scoring loads of points in Space Invaders?

  21. evileeyore says:

    Points 1, 2, and 5 describe Candy Crush Saga quite well. Unless it’s change in the last few years.

  22. thak says:

    Check out Gems of War. I’ve played WAY too much of it on Steam…and it’s free-to-play:

    http://store.steampowered.com/app/329110/

  23. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ironcast is the game you are looking for.The match three part is rather similar,but the game around it involves steampunk mechas dueling to the death.Can there be anything more awesome than STEAMPUNK MECHAS?

  24. Daemian Lucifer says:

    And then they attached it to a porn game about trying to bang anime girls.

    Thats not quite fair to the game.Yes,its softcore porn.But at the same time,its also chock full of humor.Its that humor part that drew me in,because cartoon porn never was my thing.And just like gameplay,humor is spot on in this game.

  25. Leslee says:

    Geesh. Leave it to me to completely fail (and break) a match-3 dating sim within 5 minutes of playing it!

    I just started buying random food items from the store and throwing them at the girls to see what would stick, not realizing that you’re supposed to cater to their dietary preferences that’s listed on their profile.

    Now I’m stuck because I have no money to buy the correct items and no way to go on dates to get more money. D’oh!

    Also… does anyone besides me pronounce this HOON-ee pop?

  26. Brendan says:

    I have to ask, because apparently nobody else here has:

    How did you even find this game, and what made you decide to initially play it, Shamus?

  27. mwchase says:

    Match-3 games… I played the heck out of Gyromancer in college, and occasionally try to get it working again on my laptop, now that I’ve no longer got a Windows box. I’ve also recently been playing Beglitched.

    They have… more similarities than I realized when I started writing this comment. On a superficial level, they’re both laid out with a safe hub, surrounded by distinct levels in which you’re avoiding monsters, and battle them using match-3 if need be. Enemies attack based on a meter that you can influence according to the moves you make. Beglitched has a fixed set of tiles that have different effects, including delaying enemy attacks. Gyromancer is more of a monster training RPG, with elemental types corresponding to the gem colors. Match your monster’s color, your meters fill up faster. Match the opponent’s color, and the meters don’t fill up at all. Neither game requires a match to allow a move, it’s just really a good idea under most circumstances. Both involve activating bomb-type powerups to damage enemies, though Beglitched has the enemies moving around on your board, invisible, and you have to find them using other powerups.

    Differences… Gyromancer has a bigger emphasis on leveling, and, near as I can remember, kind of crappy resource management, while Beglitched has, um, actual shops, and an emphasis on strategy as a result of state carrying over between battles. (Monster health is persistent within a Gyromancer stage, but I’m fairly sure the board resets.)

    I feel like Beglitched has more mechanical depth, and is somewhat closer to what Shamus wants, but I would be so down for a Gyromancer clone I could play on my macbook without the graphics glitching out.

  28. Phantos says:

    I wonder how this stacks up to stuff like Yoshi’s Cookie, Dr. Mario, Puyo Puyo or Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. I’ve played games like that, but I’m by no means an expert on the subject.

    Are there any Kirby’s Avalanche or Pac-Attack masters out there who can chime in on this?

  29. tmtvl says:

    I was about to post “there is a good one that isn’t about dirty stuff!” But then I realized I was thinking of Ironcast, which isn’t match-3, it’s “link nodes up”. Still, may be worth taking a look-see.

    EDIT: Ninja’d by DL.

  30. Archguru says:

    I’ve seen you talk about match 3 and huniepop before. I also like the huniepop formula more as well; however, you have tendency to put forward your personal presence as indicating that there is something wrong with the match 3 formula.

    You state that match 3 is inherently broken and shallow. I think this comes from a place in which you and the game are not engaging in the same intention. In many ways the flaws you address are the deliberate design of the game. Match 3 is usually defined by its gameplay, round metrics, overall goal, and failstate (GP/RM/OG/FS hereafter).

    I’m going to start with bejeweled. There were some earlier match 3 games but the genre really didn’t solidify and hit the public consciousness until bejeweled. You address that the game is designed around 5-minute “commuter play”, but it is important to remember that this game precedes smartphone gaming. The original came out is 2001. This precedes even Facebook by 3 years. At the time, the game was available in two formats; the full offline game package and the online flash game.

    Match 3 has its roots in the granddaddy puzzle game Tetris, from Tetris you get matching colors from Doctor Mario, then we add combining gems from Columns and Super Puzzle Fighter 2. These were the games whose formula Popcap used as a starting point.

    Basic Bejeweled is built on a basic match 3 / board score / overall score / board lock format. To define this; basic match 3 is normal match 3 without powers. This can include bombs and screen clears for 4+ matches. The individual board metric is just reaching a score to complete. The overall goal is purely an arcade style high score attack (either actual score or highest level reached). The most important factor in comparing this to other match 3 games is the failstate. The failstate for bejeweled is board lock. This single design decision is what is driving all of the other points that you are using to declare the gameplay broken.

    To address your main point, the randomness is not a broken aspect, it is the primary game play mechanic. Much as other arcade score attack games, the primary mechanic exists to limit how long you can play, gradually getting more difficult in order to create a failstate for the game session. In many ways it is similar to a rougelike, you will eventually fail. The trick is to stave that off as long as possible.

    Your other points keep coming back to that the chaos is not controllable. That the player is not strategizing beyond making what matches are available and hoping for a cascade. At the risk of going down the “ur playing wrong” well, that playstyle is the casual approach to the game. The game is less about individual matches and more about managing the random garbage coming in at the top.

    You state that to “play the bottom”. This is eventually a losing strategy. Playing the bottom can lead to a cascade, but it can also lead to locking up potential matches and creating “extra” garbage. This is doubly bad because you have now lowered the garbage down to the bottom eventually locking the board.

    Instead, you don’t play one spot. Play the bottom when you can drop extra matches or potential matches down. Play the top if dropping gems down will lock the board. Don’t play one side exclusively, as you will eventually get difficult garbage from the top. Try to vary playing vertically and horizontally. Whenever you have a board lock failstate, the game isn’t going to ensure you have matches. Very likely, there is an algorithm that will ensure that the longer you play, the tougher the garbage will be. So rather than being broken, this is more that this gameplay loop doesn’t appeal to you. Much as Dark Souls doesn’t appeal to all players for its incremental reward loop.

    Now why is Huniepop so different? I would argue it has less to do with the gameplay and more to do with the failstate.

    Huniepop is built on Sliding Match 3 / Board Score / Dating Sim Goal + Highest Level Reached / Limited Moves system. I agree that I like the sliding match 3 gameplay better, but as you point out, it doesn’t change that you cannot predict what is going to drop or prevent you from getting unplayable garbage (the broken hearts in particular). The board score mechanic is comparable to bejeweled as the point to each stage is to reach certain score total. The inital goal of the dating sim has little bearing on the gameplay. If you finish the “story”, you are presented with a challenge mode in which the score total increases as you finish boards all the way up to board 100. This still negligibly different to bejeweled. The primary difference is the failstate is purely not reaching the score in the moves allotted.

    This failstate allows the game to be fairer in terms of randomizing the board when there are no matches. It also allows for the garbage being dropped to be based on a fairer algorithm. There is no need to increase the randomness of the drop to increase the difficulty. The difficulty increases here by incrementally increasing the board score. I would argue that this is why you find this game to be more enjoyable than bejeweled.

    As an aside, this also creates unique problems for Huniepop, that bejeweled does not have. If you have played until the challenge mode, you will know that eventually, there is no way to create enough points in matches to meet the hugely elevated board scores. Eventually, you have to metagame and abuse the “powers” system to complete the boards in giant fell swoops based on accumulated sentiment points. In many ways, this detracts from the fun of the match 3 gameplay and mirrors the frustration of reaching more difficult stages in Bejeweled.

    Huniepop is also not the only game to use sliding match 3 play. Chuzzle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuzzle) is an older Popcap game that uses a sliding metric. Its slightly different in that you are moving the whole row instead of one piece. However, this has a traditional score attack / board lock system. I am curious if you would find this to be enjoyable or frustrating.

    If you are looking for games with non-board lock failstates, unfortunately, you are looking at Candy Crush and its clones. Most of these games follow a (Powers Match 3 / Board Score / Highest Level Reached / Limited Moves and Timer) format. The free to play model of course makes things more frustrating as the boards and garbage drops are patently unfair to force you into paying.I have yet to find a Candy Crush style game in which you can buy the full game outright, which would allow for them to strip the unfair portions of the game out. Some just happen to be fairer than others. I have found the Disney ones to be okay; Frozen Free Fall and the like.

    There are also a number of games that include board metrics that branch out into competing against an AI or player. The first of these was Puzzle Quest. The board metric was depleting your opponents HP. Your attacks were based on what matches you made which made for strategic play as well. These usually are (Enhanced Match 3 / Enemy HP Gone / RPG Story / Hero HP Gone). There are many others, some free to play, some not. Magic Puzzle Quest is a good free-to-play one, although frustrating playing against player decks if you don’t have good cards. Marvel Puzzle Quest is free to play on mobile, but there is a console version with all the free-to-play elements removed.

    TL;DR version: It is not that the game play is broken, it is that you don’t enjoy the failstate of the game.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Your other points keep coming back to that the chaos is not controllable. That the player is not strategizing beyond making what matches are available and hoping for a cascade. At the risk of going down the “ur playing wrong” well, that playstyle is the casual approach to the game. The game is less about individual matches and more about managing the random garbage coming in at the top.

      No,its the pro strat.In fact,in his review of 10000000 TotalBiscuit says how his wife beat the game easily just by focusing on fast matching,without considering what she is matching.And in fact,thats how I managed to increase my score in time match three games tenfold.Whenever a match three game has a timer,it stops being a puzzle game and turns just into a rush to match as many crap as you can.Thats a failure of the game,not the player.

      • Daimbert says:

        Unless the timer increases as you make matches and increases significantly more when you make better ones. Then, ultimately, it will always be the case that at the tougher difficulty levels making a lot of weak matches will result in at best you merely holding on and eventually losing ground … and that assumes that you even see them right away. This approach strikes a balance between better matches and fast matches: you want to make better matches, but you don’t want to spend too much time looking for them.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          No,even if the timer increases,speed trumps planning and thinking.In fact,especially when the timer increases this is the case.The only time you actually have to plan out your moves is if you have only a limited number of them,and if increasing them requires either a special resource that doesnt bring you closer to the goal,or if you can increase the number of moves with big matches(5+).

          • Daimbert says:

            Let me make the mechanism clear. You have a timer that decreases at certain speeds (usually it gets faster the longer you’ve been playing the game). Matches, however, increase the timer (or restore it, if you prefer). Better matches — cascades, 4s, 5s, etc — increase the timer more than simple 3s do. Thus, you always want to make better matches because that’s the best way to get ahead, but it’s better for you to make a 3 match than to sit there staring at the board looking for really good ones or a way to build really good ones. At some point, 3 matches will at best keep you from losing ground, but you won’t be able to get ahead or stay ahead doing only 3 matches. And since you won’t always have or always see 3 matches immediately, eventually trying to match 3 matches really, really quickly will end up killing you. If you’re really good at it, that might be slowly, but someone who focuses on the better matches but knows how long to look for one before taking 3 matches ought to outplay you every single time.

            So, in short, 5 matches arguably DO increase “the number of moves”; they give you more time back than 3 matches do. If that difference is significant, then they are always the better play, but there will always be a law of diminishing returns on spending lots of time thinking about your moves because the timer is running down while you do so, and if you take more time to think about how to set up that move than you get from it, you lose ground.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              With a timer and infinite moves,no matter how many times better bigger connections are,a bunch of smaller connections will always trump that.Heres a random extremely simplified example:

              Lets say that match 3 gives you 1 second back,match 4 gives you 3 seconds,and match 5 gives you 7 seconds.Clearly going always for 5 is better,right?Well,in practice it turns out that hunting 5s will take you much longer.In practice,however,going always for 5s will always tick you down more than you get,even if you manage to score a huge combo.Youll always get stumped at that one time and spend too much time just looking at the board.On the other hand,randomly matching 3s without any thought will keep you at no time movement for long enough until RNGesus grants you a falling down combo thats long enough to push your time into a positive movement.And its precisely this randomness of things matching together when they fall down that makes speed so crucial.

              • Daimbert says:

                But my whole point is that you DON’T always hunt for 5s! If every move matches 5s, you’re doing better than matching 3s, so you should indeed always want 5s. But you don’t want to spend too much time looking for 5s. So the main strategy is to quickly look for 5s that you can exploit and if you can’t do that in a reasonable amount of time take a quick match just to avoid losing too much ground.

                If you always only grab the first 3 you see, then that at best keeps you even, but with a) an increasing speed in the “decrease” of the timer bar and b) with the fact that you may not always see a match 3 in 1 second, and so it might take you 2 or 3 to do it in practice the very best quick match players only manage to lose less slowly. And more careful players will get a match 5, which arguably gives them 6 seconds to find another good match — or set up for one — before they get back to the same level that simply picking 6 match 3s would get them. And since they will get lucky at times, too, there isn’t that much more benefit to taking quick matches in terms of the big cascades … and the more careful players will actually be able to take the time to DELIBERATELY trigger them.

                With this system, the key is to get ahead so that you have more time to think and make better matches that can keep you ahead. The “fast-fast!” strategy means that you at best hold steady and rarely get ahead, so you have no time to think and are just hoping to get lucky. A skilled player who knows how to find better matches quickly and precisely when to stop looking for one and take a quick match will do better than someone randomly taking any match they can find.

                To summarize:

                1) If you have a set number of moves, you always want to pick the best match available.

                2) If you have a straight timer with a score, you’ll want to match quickly to at least make points.

                3) If you have the mixed score/timer, then you want to take the best match you can find without letting the score/timer run down too far.

    • Daimbert says:

      I’ve been thinking about this, and I think it isn’t really a matter of failstate, but instead over what the gameplay asks you to focus on, which is impacted by failstate: does the game encourage better matches or more matches (where cascades are considered better matches)?

      If the game is encouraging better matches, then you’re going to play more at the bottom because that’s the only way to set those up; playing at the top will simply drop equally minor matches. But if the game is encouraging MORE matches, then you want to start at the top and clear all of those out before going to the bottom, because a bottom match might remove that match. This is all because matching at the bottom has a larger impact on the board than matching at the top, and so a game where shaking up the board is a good thing encourages bottom play while a game where that is risky encourages top play.

      Huniepop’s regular gameplay definitively encourages making better matches over making more matches, because more matches count as moves and so if you aren’t maximizing your score on each move you’re likely getting yourself into trouble. Huniepop’s “bedroom” matching, at least in my view, encourages better matching — because the timer keeps ticking down and is increased a lot more by better matches — but in a way where it’s better for you to have a minor match than take too much time to find a really good one. The complaints about the other games are that they encourage the number of matches more than they do the quality of them. To what degree they do that might be debatable.

      So it seems to me that Shamus would prefer a game where planning out really great cascades and considered matches, whereas others might prefer games where seeing matches and clicking quickly is preferred. Failstate plays into that, but it isn’t the ultimate determining factor.

      As an aside, this also creates unique problems for Huniepop, that bejeweled does not have. If you have played until the challenge mode, you will know that eventually, there is no way to create enough points in matches to meet the hugely elevated board scores. Eventually, you have to metagame and abuse the “powers” system to complete the boards in giant fell swoops based on accumulated sentiment points. In many ways, this detracts from the fun of the match 3 gameplay and mirrors the frustration of reaching more difficult stages in Bejeweled.

      But it seems to me that the considered use of powers is part of the game. You aren’t supposed to spam powers, but are instead to build up to getting them and then pick the right time to activate them to get the maximum benefit out of them. Sometimes that gets used to work yourself out of a problem you’ve gotten yourself into, but in some cases you can plan out your moves for the maximum impact of the powers, and I’d say that a lot of the best players are really good at doing that. So I’d disagree that using the powers is “metagaming” or “abusing” them; the powers are part of the gameplay that specific match 3 game implemented, the specific details of every other match 3 game out there.

  31. No idea if this is a existing game (it probably is, it’s rare for unique ideas to be possible any more).

    Think a similar board to that of Tetris. Only square. For sake of argument let’s assume a 8×8 grid.

    Symbols drop down randomly from across the top, one at a time. It may drop 1 or it may drop 8 and if less than 8 they may drop in any column.

    Your goal is to get matches/patterns and select these and remove them, the better the patterns the more points you get.
    Each time you remove match/pattern a new row of (1-8) symbols are dropped.

    You can sacrifice two symbols that do not match but you get 0 points for doing that. Removing a pair gives you 1 points, removing 3 matches gives you 10, removing 4 matches gives you 100 and so on.

    You can not sacrifice a singular symbol, it must be at least two. Meaning to get rid of one undesirable you need to also get rid of a desirable symbol. If your lucky you don’t want either though.

    You can have vertical/horizontal/diagonal matches, maybe even complex patterns like star/cross(x) or circle and square too, a heart, smiley-face? Possibilities are almost endless, with a large enough grid you can get any shape if you are lucky enough with symbol placement.

    The more complex the symbol the higher the score.

    The game “ends” when the board is filled (maybe because you did not want to do 0 point sacrifices and was hoping for good matches to happen later), or when the board is empty. The board starts by getting randomly filled halfway up (which should make a cool looking “startup” animation too.

    So the longer you keep the game going and the better matches you make the higher score you get (if there are any leaderboards they would probably get insane as there would always be at least one of those guys/girls that never sleeps so nobody can ever get close to beating them).

    The score is counting the sum you have, and how long you played. So one could get bragging rights about getting to 1 million points in under half an hour for example.

    How do you play it? You tap/click on the symbols to highlight them, you can click/tap again to un-highlight. To the sides or under the board is a Match button. Clicking that will do the “matching”.

    If the game is nice to look at, has funny or nice art. It’ll do nicely as a time waster, it’s easy to play. It allows strategy and rewards it. And I can even see younger kids getting some mental exercise out of it (pattern matching).

    Oh and just to make it clear, this idea (and this comment/post) I just wrote I hereby place in the public domain, I claim no copyright, so go nuts and steal the idea for your own games, I don’t mind.

    No clue what to call a game type like this. Match Anything? / Match Everything?

  32. Son of Valhalla says:

    I never played Candy Crush or Bejeweled or HuniePop, but I might try the latter if it’s somewhat entertaining… I’ve just never been interested in these drop-down pattern recognition games, and I do get bored playing them.

    Also…

    “You feel like you’re making stuff happen, but it’s ultimately shallow and sad. It’s a never-ending cascade of participation trophies.”

    ^ Did you just metaphorically compare Bejeweled and Candy Crush to the education system?

  33. MKcyborg says:

    I can definitely say that match-3 is one of those genres that is way too overused in the mobile market, along with Bubble Bobble style games. “Watching” ads to get cat food for The Battle Cats lets me see some pretty bad ads for those kinds of games. You know your game is lacking in originality when your ads use combos and power ups as major selling points. For those curious, the ads are for Toy Blast and Bunny Pop.

    Speaking of bad mobile ads, I have to tell someone about some of the bad/awkward ads I’ve seen. There’s the meme overload ad for Monster Legend that may have been made by someone trying too hard to look hip (if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m talking about with it’s *dramatic war cry*), most of the ads for ‘Episodes’, and a Korean game called Endless Legend. One of the ads uses the phrase “Awesome Inflation RPG!” Granted, it’s probably a translation error, but it’s a pretty unfortunate one.

  34. SADD1 says:

    Shamus, You are Playing it Wrong!

    You always play from the top first and save the moves at the bottom as a Last Resort, (I thought everybody knew that?)

    • Mephane says:

      That’s how I do it, too. Once I realized the “board becomes locked up” fail state it became my play style to always avoid it and keep some potential moves in the lower rows available until a point where they are the only moves possible – shifting around a lot of stuff above and therefore possibly removing much of the board lock-up.

  35. T-Bird says:

    I think everyone here is forgetting the ultimate in match-3 gaming. Tetris Attack for the super Nintendo. It was a Mario based match-3 with an arcade style “story mode”. It absolutely required tactics over speed, but slowly worked you through until you could (and had to) make the same tactically ideal moves at break neck speeds. I absolutely adored that game when I was younger. Given, it introduced pieces Tetris style (thus the name), but it was undoubtedly match-3 at its core.

  36. meltingeclipse says:

    You might like Blast Magus (it’s on Kongregate–I don’t want to link since that’ll probably make your spam filter upset).

    It’s a “click and make adjacent same-color pieces disappear” game rather than a “switch and match” game. There’s a random factor involved in giving you better configurations from pieces falling from the top, but the matches don’t happen automatically.

    There’s no timer, but you have a limited number of moves, so you’re encouraged to make the most of each move.

    There *is* a bit of a “game is at the bottom” aspect, but there are ways (the “spells”–that is, remove a certain configuration of pieces to remove extra pieces in the same column/row, or around them) to remove pieces from the bottom even if there aren’t any matches there.

    Each level is a bit different–the game board comes in different shapes, there are different numbers of types of pieces, the “spells” you can do vary, different special pieces and obstacles are introduced as you go along, and your goals vary somewhat as you go along (always a certain number of points you have to get to win that level, I think, but sometimes you also have to clear obstacles or get a certain number of special pieces).

    There’s no creep factor, it’s visually appealing, and it has pretty music. (Actually there’s no story at all; it’s pretty much purely an abstract puzzle game.)

    Caveat: read the tutorial messages carefully and remember them, because you are never going to see them again, ever, unless you delete your cookie or something. You can’t just redo the level and reread them. This can be a little unfortunate if you skimmed over them the first time or haven’t played for a while and don’t remember everything.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Dangerous adventure is also nice one there.Its a dungeon crawler combined with a match 3.

      (it’s on Kongregate–I don’t want to link since that’ll probably make your spam filter upset)

      It trips only when you have three links in your post,so dont worry.

  37. Hoist says:

    One of my favorites is dungeon raid. The levels are the same all the time it just ramps up the difficulty. But the approach you take is differentiated by the race and class you take but mostly by the 4 skills you choose as you level up

  38. Alex says:

    Plenty of recommendations here, but I feel obliged to throw Tidalis into the hat as well:

    http://arcengames.com/tidalis/

    Seems to be almost exactly what you are looking for.

  39. Mephane says:

    Now here’s a question because people here know many more games like this. I am indeed searching for a good casual style puzzle game, need not be match-3 specifically. However, some conditions apply:

    * Exists for Android.
    * Decent quality. I don’t need shovelware thrown together hastily in order to try and cash in one some recent trend.
    * Not too hungry on the battery (I don’t need 3D animations or whatever).
    * No continuous in-app purchases. By this I mean extra lives, consumables, power-ups etc. If this exists, that’s a no-go for me. Paying for more content (i.e. DLC), a one-time fee to remove all add or to unlock a trial version into a full version – or just buying the game up-front the traditional way – is fine, however. Generally if the store says In-app Products €0,99 – €99,99 per item¹ I don’t even bother looking at it.
    * Ads are okay if they are not too intrusive or distracting. A banner on the main menu is acceptable, a huge blinking ad next to the puzzle board is a terrible annoyance. Also: I set my devices and everything to English. I may be geographically located in Germany, but I find it massively upsetting to see German ads on an website or app set to English. Show me locally relevant products in English all you want, but don’t force my brain to switch language context for that product I am not going to buy anyway.
    * Not overly stuffed with story, meta-game etc¹. A theme can be nice but not relevant (purely abstract puzzles are fine), but all the things I read here about how by doing puzzles you raid a dungeon or fly rockets into space make me cringe. It’s like the puzzles have become a substitution for a different game where you would actually do the things.
    * No literal race against the clock. Now that doesn’t mean time must not ever be an issue, something like Tetris¹ is fine because you don’t simply play against a clock, just that the game mechanics involve stuff happening automatically so you got to keep up with it.
    * Though I have personally no objections against erotic content at all, I’d prefer to not have it on the screen visible for everyone else while playing on the bus.
    * Bonus points if it has some sort of endless mode or random puzzle generation, i.e. you never reach the point where you have finished the game and all you can do is repeat the same static puzzles you have already solved.

    ¹Apparently EA bought the license for Tetris and did exactly that, slapped the whole in-app-purchase bullshit on it and then a meta-game of unlocking(?) the galaxy(?) and earning power-ups (power-ups in Tetris, wtf?).

  40. Sebastian says:

    That reminds me of the game Penthouse Hot Numbers. It was a fun puzzle game where you have to choose numbered tiles on a board vertically and the opponent/CPU horizontally and the higher score wins. Under the tiles was a naked, 256 colored woman. Yeah, I don’t need that today, but I’d like to play that kind of game again.

    I guess there was a more harmless version with sexy robots though.

  41. Dreadjaws says:

    Funny story, I actually purchased this game because I liked the idea of how the match-3 gameplay was done (also, it was on sale really cheap and I’ll buy anything at ridiculously low prices. It’s a problem, I know). I never could play Bejeweled or any other for more than a couple of minutes precisely because of the problems you mention.

    That being said, I’m not bothered by the theme. I’m not enthusiastic about it either (as in, I wouldn’t purchase the game because of it), but it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. I don’t know, I think people look to much into these things. Maybe I’m desensitized the same way others are to gory games. I mean, it’s rare to find these days a videogame with a reasonably clothed female character.

  42. CaptainFrance says:

    Have you looked at Puzzle and Dragons? It’s a mobile Match 3 with a fairly deep RPG metagame around it, where a move consists of moving a single piece around the board as much as you can/need to within a limited time frame to make matches–unlimited time between moves, about 4 seconds once you pick up a piece. It DOES have those annoying mobile slot machine elements in the metagame, but it’s not hard to play without spending any money, and it’s really really good.

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