Puzzle Craft (iOS) Review

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 are 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.

 

Hand of Fate (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Defiant Development || Overall: 9.5/10

Hardware Used: Windows 8.1, i7, Nvidia GTX 780, Xbox360 Controller

New trends such as Kickstarter and Steam Early Access have made feasible genres and products that theoretically may not have been available otherwise. With investment on the front-end rather than the back-end, some game developers take this opportunity to fill in very specific niches which may (or may not) further garnish interest and investment. Hand of Fate is a product of this investment trend in the form of a deck-building card game featuring action-based combat.

The set up for the story is you are challenging a talkative mystic to a card game, sitting across from him at a table. You get thrown right into the game, moving your piece across a set path of cards on the table with a boss at the last level. As you make your way through the first couple of bosses, you slowly learn the flow and mechanics of the game and learn more about the Dealer himself and the origin of the card game. With further progression you assemble the pieces of the story that each card tells and how they relate either to your nameless character or the Dealer himself. Hand of Fate begins to feel more like a throwback to an old adventure game with a narrator as you start to settle into the gameplay.

As you progress through the board, you primarily get items, equipment, or encounter scenarios. How well you do dictates what gear you get and how easy the action-oriented encounters can be. While you will primarily be spending your time at the table, you will port into encounters to beat up enemies and, eventually, bosses via action gameplay. The best comparison I can make for these interludes is something like a grounded God of War. That doesn’t mean you can’t feel quite powerful depending on the gear you get, though.

These action encounters are really only one part of the greater picture, but they are very important to successfully complete as competently as possible — namely not losing health. The action gameplay takes a little bit to get used to, but is mostly satisfying. Normal swings with your weapon feel like they “snap” to one enemy and you don’t cleave other enemies who seem like they should get hit as well – this is counteracted by being able to quickly “switch” targets around and stun them with a shield (if equipped) or counter an enemy ability. The combat seems to be mostly based on your ability to counter and dodge attacks and when to use special abilities (if you have any) as there are no combos to perform. The combat doesn’t feel flat, but can feel a bit like spamming one button over and over — this can take the fun out of it if you prefer at least some sort of alternate attacks despite there being special abilities that are on long cooldowns. You can also stun with your shield and it is required to interrupt an enemy’s impending attack in certain cases. Sometimes you sort of fly at enemies that are a couple of steps away due to the way the “snapping” is designed, which can be a bit jarring but ends up helping you more than not.

Encounters include combat, mazes, and shops. The locales in the combat are a bit varied, but you’ll begin to notice you see the same ones pop up over and over which allows you to familiarize yourself with the maps, which inevitably helps you. Traps are also set on the maps which can hurt both you and your enemies, so you may have to strategize exactly where you can run and which direction to dodge to. Mazes use these traps (and other unique ones) to hurt you, the motivation being to get through with minimal injury and to the treasure at the end of the maze. Shops allow you to buy health, buffs (called blessings), food, equipment, and remove debuffs (called curses). Depending on your progression and when you stumble upon a shop, it can be a game changer.

Since the overall goal is to essentially prepare your character for the boss, doing terribly in one of the encounters could swing a good game into a bad one. As with other rogue-likes, death is permanent and you will lose the current progression of your run and have to start over if you end up failing. Any tokens you earn from cards will be yours to keep regardless of the outcome, which unlock more cards to play with.

The Dealer reveals (and you are shown) early on that there are twelve bosses to progress through. For me, it was pretty smooth sailing for the first five bosses, but the sixth boss I felt a very large difficulty jump. Where you notice this difficulty jump could potentially be different for you depending on how many cards (and which cards) you unlock, but you’ll begin to notice that chance takes a very big toll on your progression. Some cards have a 25% chance to succeed, while others require you to have two lucky 25% draws. Most of the chance games require you to choose between four cards, but other chance-oriented games involve actions you take in a given story scenario. Depending on if you memorize what card does what you can mitigate chances towards the desired outcome in a story scenario.

Rogue-like progression takes charge in unlocking more and more cards as you naturally play. As long as you accomplish a particular card’s challenge you’ll attain a token which rewards you more cards. These cards may or may not be able to unlock further cards, which adds to the amount of encounters and equipment you can acquire in the game. There will be cards that you’ll have to encounter multiple times before you get lucky or remember what didn’t work last time before you’re able to acquire the card’s token. This can get subtly frustrating if they are based on chance on top of choosing the correct prompts.

Graphics and sound are also boons to the overall experience. Character designs and animations work well with each other with a cartoony “flavor” to it. The more unique character designs come from the Lizardmen and Mages, while other characters in the game such as Thieves and Skeletons leave a bit to be desired in the style department, but serve their purpose fine in the end. The soundtrack is enjoyable and properly matches what is happening on the screen. The table has ambient music and little sound effects for every time you activate a card. I also experienced no noticeable frame rate drops or graphics issues during gameplay.

Hand of Fate is fun to play, but in the end what is it that actually tries to excite you to come back for more? The challenge is certainly there and despite being a bit frustrating at times, you do get a sense of accomplishment when you finally take a boss down. But what is really fun, unique, and even mysterious about the game itself is one thing: the Dealer.

The gameplay of Hand of Fate seems to become only a tool in learning about the character of the Dealer. It is almost as if it is a character study when he says little tidbits about himself or what the purpose of certain things are, such as the card game itself and who he has played against before. He also voices a very strong opinion about in-universe-specific problems such as fake fortune tellers and other strange outbursts. As you replay the game over and over you’ll notice that you are hearing him say a couple of things repeatedly but for the first four or five hours, almost everything is unique, and he will usually have a little blurb for each new card.

The Dealer’s fluid animation is interesting as he will occasionally play with his bracelet or make amusing gesticulations. What primarily sells the character is the voice acting, which is perfectly executed in the context of this game with the voice actor chosen. You also learn a little more about the Dealer himself from the set design. The slowly panning camera reveals what is on the table, and the halls where the game is taking place are able to be inspected a bit. The progression in the game itself seems to head toward a particular goal, but without taking wild guesses (or cheating and reading spoilers) it isn’t outright predictable.

Game options may feel a bit sparse. You can only choose between Story Mode and Endless Mode. Endless Mode allows you to play with all of the cards you’ve acquired so far, which allows you to grind out locked cards. Endless Mode diverts from Story Mode’s rules in that every level you progress you draw a bad card which can be a Curse or something less impactful like loss of gold or health. The point of this mode would technically be Leaderboards, but I was using it to grind out some cards to unlock since I was having a lot of trouble with the sixth boss (and finally beat it before writing this review).

Also related to game options is a curious lack of character customization for the avatar you use in the encounters. It would be one thing if the avatar you play as were characterized, but since he is seemingly vacuous, it feels like something is missing in that regard. It doesn’t take anything away from the gameplay, really, but if they were at least somewhat randomized each time as far as the face/skin tone went it wouldn’t feel as large of an oversight – I’m just left wondering why the avatar you play as looks like that and what his purpose is. Part of the mystery, to me, is whether or not the Dealer actually sees “you” or the “avatar guy” sitting across the table from him.

Being that Hand of Fate has been available via Early Access, it has seen many changes: balance, UI, and otherwise.  There are also plans for DLC, such as extra cards which would expand the gameplay down the line.  It will be interesting to see just how much gets added by way of DLC and what impact it has on the game as more additions are made.

Hand of Fate is a very enjoyable game and a unique experience. Pushing on and completing the game, as well as unlocking all of the cards, can prove to be a time-intensive and challenging endeavor, but with hardly any harsh criticisms to be had about the game it isn’t a particularly daunting proposition. Hand of Fate is available for PC, PS4-PSN, and XBone-Live — console versions are available for download at 4 PM.

A reviewable copy of Hand of Fate was provided to Squackle.