The AAPL Tree’s Game Branch
Wait, what’s with this…game…review…stuff? Well, if you can figure out the context for this ostensible blogging departure of mine, consider it a Secret Collect 😉
For future reference, I only write about apps I like. The game’s great. If somehow you missed it, I highly recommend you get it on your choice of platform – Steam, Google Play, iOS. But if you’re not entirely sure or want a pure gamer-consumer’s, versus gamer-journalist’s perspective, please feel free to read on.
Where It All Began
Last year – I know, well over a year after it launched – I decided to try out 10000000, which I’d heard about during launch, and quickly found out why it was a very well-received game. Granted, it helped if you ever liked/tried/tolerated, say:
• match-3 games (specifically, fast-paced ones – I was a pretty decent and loyal Bejeweled Blitz player before they ruined it by going well beyond the “choose up to 3 out of 5 boosts” stage, but I digress)
• role-playing games (for the stats and upgrades)
• RTS-type games (since optimal 10000000 play often involves planning your way around the board, not just matching as fast as possible)
But considering Luca’s well-deserved success, appreciation of the game-nerdier details (such as average damage and critical hit chance) really wasn’t necessary. Sure, 10000000 wasn’t without its annoyances, but really, I only remember them really piling up when I got to Ace Level 3 – read: I brought it on myself by invoking “New Game +” more than once.
The Above-Ground Experience
You Must Build a Boat is a sequel, but it plays considerably differently from the original. More on that a bit later.
Of course, there’s the boat, which you’re building, vs. the cave underworld. There’s literally more scenery to admire. Your progress is no longer measured by scores, but subtly and effectively tracked by the old familiar objectives, which, by clearing, enable your boat to hop to the next zone. (Was that a small spoiler just then?) Speaking of objectives, they’re now worked into a risk-reward system (pick at least one, or more) which allows the player to take on additional challenges in exchange for improved “cash and prizes”. It also has the practical effect of significantly reducing the amount of level runs/time you need to clear the game (if so desired).
Rather than build out inaccessible rooms by hoarding wood and stone over time (not like it was the worst drudgery ever – Luca cleverly repurposed them for the mid/late game via small time boosts and potion optimization), then hoarding more of the same to unlock better upgrades, you now take on additional boat passengers who, well, build your skiff into something rather more impressive. And when the passengers have something of use for you (don’t worry, most early ones do), they offer their full progression suite from the get-go – it’s just that you can’t possibly afford it all right away. There is one point in the game where you (might) feel like you have too much of one of the game’s four currencies (now gold, rare dust, power and thought), but it doesn’t last long, once the first of two “random outcome” boat passengers arrives.
Ah yes, upgrades. They’re a requirement to beat the game, but some of them are actually quite optional, giving the more advanced player/Bejeweled Blitz/10000000 veteran subtle ways to modulate difficulty. Overall, they’re also quite different from what you may remember from 10000000, and when you add in the noticeable (well, to me) change in pace, you end up with a game that has a surprisingly different gameplay feel from its “prequel”.
A Less Puzzling Puzzler
What do I mean? Aren’t there reviewers who say it’s faster-paced than ever, now that you can continue moving certain tiles during matches? Yes, but I disagree. Based on the revised structure, I’m betting Luca was going for less frustration and smoother progression.
In the “prequel”, bad runs could wipe your player out in higher-level dungeons quite quickly. On the other hand, match exceptionally well/get a favorable bunch of tiles, and you could score in-game bonuses (remember the dashed line?) and keep your player running well ahead of the pace (for a little while, anyway) – comfortably exceeding the Escape Score even on Ace Levels. This volatility, which tends to favor the power-matchers among us, has been reduced in You Must Build a Boat.
Maybe I think I notice because I’m an ex-Bejeweled Blitz player, yes. But even with the ability to match more tiles at once than ever (albeit on a larger 8×6 board, vs. 10000000‘s smaller 8×7 grid), the pace seems…steadier, a bit more deliberate, to the point of somehow feeling more “casual” than before (match-3, after all). Your trusty shield, not so durable for much of 10000000, seems a lot more trusty than before, and can gain some new tricks. The game encourages players to experience the wacky randomness of dungeon attributes (negative, more often than not), amping up “Danger” but also “Quality” of sweet, sweet loot once you’ve reached a checkpoint during a run. Don’t believe me? Well, why else does Luca throw in “time bonuses” between what are essentially “puzzle rounds”? (If you’ve completed 10000000, you’ll appreciate why else they’re there. You’ll get what I mean by mid-game.)
Fear not though, match-3 veterans. You Must Build a Boat is still plenty action-puzzler enough, and the ramping difficulty will send you back to your boat before long. It’s just a little more friendly and “structured” about it. (Well, maybe not the key traps. Stay alert for those.)
Luca’s play-collect-redeem-reward loop system is incredibly well-executed. You’ve got variety (passengers, “Pokemon”, special items) and plenty of places to put your hard-earned resources to work. It’s a “grind” like all progression games, but more like an escalator than rock-climbing between plateaus. The mostly frictionless virtuous cycle means that if you’re not careful, this game will become a eyestrain-inducing timesink as you admire the steadily more effective results of your upgrades. It eventually happened to me.
Coming Up Aces
You Must Build a Boat is a stunning display of refinement, sophistication (example: “the crate-clearing hypercube”) and advancement, without sacrificing the ineffable qualities of indie game charm. Luca introduced subtle hints of humor that didn’t exist in 10000000, and I challenge you to not at least nod in appreciation when/should you see ’em (the two “secrets” I’m referring to become background decorations in your increasingly elaborate boat). And if you’re an Ace Level player from before, he didn’t forget about you.
The one criticism I can muster at the moment is that the “ending” isn’t much of one, when compared to 10000000. But let’s be honest – a whole lot of us will be looking to gain Ace Levels soon enough.
I’ll wrap up with this. Think Match-3 is long since played out? You must not have tried Luca Redwood’s latest gem.