Developer: AT Games | Publisher: Chillingo Ltd || Overall: 9.5/10
Seldom do games made for a smart phone really impress me. Puzzle Craft did.
Puzzle Craft is a charming, fun, and simple puzzle game that is the most fun I’ve had with any single phone game yet. I originally downloaded and played the game to completion about a couple years ago, and introduced it to a some people. Every now and then I hear about how those people still play it to this day, long after I uninstalled it. I fully intended to review it, but I never got around to it. I took pictures of my end progress, but somewhere along the way I forgot to do anything with those screenshots.
Puzzle Craft is the story of your people and your town that you create from scratch. As you progress, you build out your town, hire more workers, earn gold, and endlessly match a variety of different resources. As long as you meet a minimum match requirement (the base is three), you can string together as many other items along the way by drawing lines through them only once. Being able to go in diagonal directions, you have to think outside the box and can get some long matches going. With limited turns, it is very important to try and maximize each turn you take as it costs resources or Gold to do so again.
There are only two locations to play the matching game — the farm and the mine. The farm requires only 30 Gold to begin farming. The mine requires 100 Gold, but you can also use the resources you gather from the farm matching game to begin a mine matching game. Eventually you gain enough resources to progress your town and gain experience by matching. Some buildings allow you to gather new resources, use new tools, and eventually new obstacles present themselves within the unique matching games. The game slowly ramps up in complexity and difficulty to keep things fresh. You’ll need to learn how to use tools to elongate your turns and set up big matches — it is very important to learn how to maximize your earnings as furthering your buildings and experience will require pulling out every trick you can muster. Unfortunately, when doing long matches, your finger can also get in the way of seeing what direction you want to go — it can be a bit cumbersome at times to figure out the best path as a result. I suppose this could be part of the challenge, but I doubt it was designed with that intention in mind.
One of the most satisfying things about Puzzle Craft, is that everything you do adds toward your progression. As you learn tricks on how to be efficient when farming and mining, you’ll be able to quickly get ahead of the game and build a lot of buildings fast. A nice part of the building process is you are given the freedom to choose which plots buildings can go, which allows you to customize your town. Some buildings can only be used in one location, however.
Buildings are very important and offer rewards on cooldown. Depending on the building it might offer you tools, resources, gold, or simply be part of the cosmetic look of your town after its initial benefit is earned. You might have learned that it is very annoying to have to try and tap anything on the very sides of your phone, especially if you have a case protecting it. Unless you know what buildings do what, you have to take a chance that you might place a building in an inconvenient location for your finger to tap. Sometimes buildings are placed behind other buildings and you end up tapping the wrong one and you are put into a different menu, away from the town, then must try again and be more precise in your tapping. Considering all of those bonuses are endless and only require time before they are replenished, you deal with it, but it would be nice if there was some sort of catch-all button, as once you build out your town to capacity, it can be a chore to click 50 things every time you start it up after a few hours. It would have been nice if there was a way to move buildings around, but there is no option to do so.
Gold is essentially the primary resource in the game, and with gold you can buy or do practically anything. When you grind your resources in the farm/mine, you can sell extra resources for gold at the Market. Gold is the limiting factor of the game, and if you had a lot of it, the game’s challenge would go away. Initially when I started playing there was no way to buy gold, but with an update sometime last year (shortly before I uninstalled it) they added an option to buy. If you play enough, you’ll have as much gold as you could ever desire, so the impetus to buy is pretty low. Considering once you get to the end you can Reset the game to the beginning and start anew, I’m not entirely sure what happens to the gold you might have bought. You can look at this more as a “cheat” rather than something that allows you to play longer. I did get a bit disappointed when that was added, but it didn’t take away anything from the core gameplay, so it is easily overlooked.
Workers are also a nice cosmetic addition, walking through your town when hired. As you hire more workers, they benefit you in specific ways and you can become more efficient. You can only hire up to five of each worker, so you have to plan for which workers will benefit you the most at the time of your progression. They cost resources, so you may have to decide between a worker and a building at times.
The art style really grows on you, and as you get used to it you see the charming aspects it has to offer. The animals and the vegetables have a lot of character to them, and the workers and buildings all fit in and have unique art. There are lots of colors and you really feel like you’re in a old time utopia town making your denizens happy with your progression. The music isn’t terrible, either, and the sound effects also add a bit of fun as the chickens cluck, pigs oink, and the cows moo when you match them. Different tools also have different sound effects and the dynamite can be satisfying along with its visual action.
Late in the game, you are able to open treasure chests which offer nice bonuses. To open treasure chests you have to meet the requirements of the treasure map, which may be something like matching 14 grass. To open the chest at this point, you need to drag your finger through 14 grasses before ending up on the chest. There are also different levels of chests, and they may require more rare resources being matched to have them open. This adds a challenge to the game in its later stages, but also can mean nice rewards. There also items to collect that appear in your archaeology hut, and once a collection is complete, you gain a permanent buff.
While there is a long end game to play once you’ve completed your village, it can become old fast as it is very grindy. The exciting part of the game is building up your town and making more buildings. Once the game changes its focus to completing treasure chests and defeating enemies, it becomes a little frustrating at times and not as light-feeling as it is when you initially start the game. Fortunately you are able to reset the game and start from scratch, so you are able to play as you see fit. If you are really good, you’ll have so many tools you don’t know what to do with them. Tools can be frustrating to use over and over as it takes two clicks to use them, and if you have 80 of them to use as extra, you’re going to have to click 160 times to use them all. Some tools become redundant and obsolete as you progress, but you are still stuck with them as the only way to get rid of them is to use them.
Puzzle Craft deserves a lot of attention. It is such a great smart phone game to play, and without being pestered to buy in-app credits every ten seconds, you really feel like the purpose of the game was to have fun rather than sell you endless amounts of digital goods or peddle ads to you all of the time. A rare thing to see in games, nowadays.