Sit back for a moment and close your eyes. Hold on, hold on! Crap...they're closed already. Ok, I'll wait then. Good, you're back. That was ridiculous of me, asking you to close your eyes when my next instructions, being written, would be unavoidably ignored.
Let's try this again. Leaving your eyes open, try to imagine every game you can that is built off the simple, yet addicting concept of the Match-3 game. First thing that pops into mind is probably Bejeweled, because, let's face it, since its release in 2001, it's been the king of the mountain. Though its popularity has cooled in recent years, other developers have taken that simple formula of matching three similar objects to new, even more dizzying heights.
Dungeon Hearts is one of those games. It combines the trappings of an old school role-playing game, something akin to the first Final Fantasy, with the mechanical soul of the Match-3 genre. While not going as far as 10000000 in providing quests and purchasing abilities/enhancements, DH manages to cut, burn, shoot and heal down a path that is all its own.
The premise is simple. You have four heroes, each representing the classic roles of a balanced RPG adventuring party, and each representing a color on the board. Red is the Fighter, Yellow the Wizard, Blue the Cleric/Healer, Green the Rogue/Archer. Standing side by side in a classic RPG line, each also stands at the end of a lane, which the game refers to as the Fatestream.
The tiles travel down said lane, from right to left, and your job is to move and match the tiles, creating attack diamonds, called “strikers”, with each match of three. Matches are made by dragging a tile between or through lanes. Clicking on the diamonds initiates an attack from the hero of the corresponding color. Lining up multiple diamonds creates combo attacks, and combining three of the same creates a board clearing “super striker” that can lead to big damage.
Attacks, damage, combos. What the hell are we talking about? Well, the entirety of DH is classic combat against some really big monsters. In between the colored tiles you match to drain these beasties of the precious hit points are monster attack tiles which need to be destroyed before the hit the end of the lane, or your heroes get damaged instead.
This back-and-forth with the monster, the choosing to build combos for huge attacks or destroy every attack coming your way, all while the lanes are creeping, or simply flat out booking it in later levels, ever closer to your heroes, is where Dungeon Hearts really sinks its teeth in. Coming along with the attacks are debuffs for your heroes, like poison or curses, and buffs for the monster, the nastiest of which is a bomb that floods the lane it explodes in with colorless tiles and more bombs.
In fact, the array of different tiles to keep track of is a little intimidating, especially when they are introduced in groups of two or three. The last two or three fights, of which I have not beaten, even on easy, are a blur of solid colorless tiles, which do nothing but impede movement around the lanes, and a deadly mix of relentless buffs and armored (requiring two or more strikers to destroy) attacks.
In an effort to even things out, your heroes gain levels and unlock special attacks and buffs of their own, many of which can serve to clear the lanes, making some impossible challenges a bit easier to deal with. Levels are gained in between monsters by matching star tiles, and each hero's skills are gated behind certain levels. Some skills are straight forward, like the Fighter stabbing things, while others are a bit more challenging. One of my favorites is the Cleric's mid-tier skill. It's a resurrection spell that summons “Death” complete with tiny wings and a scythe. Death is attached to a silver cord, and you have to pull the cord by clicking on a button , pulling Death towards your party before the timer runs out in order to rez any of your fallen comrades. How the embodiment of Death was able to grant life was beyond me, but since I typed that, I figure he wasn't granting life as much as returning the soul of your fallen comrade.
Everything graphics wise is simple and cute. Each hero is easily identifiable by their color, as well as their apparel. The Fighter carries a classic ginormous sword, and looks almost like his counterpart from the earlier mentioned Final Fantasy, while the Archer is almost forest tribal, with rough hewn clothes and leaves sticking out of... well everywhere. The monsters you are fighting are easily identifiable. Some are just huge versions of actual animals, like wolves, spiders, and dinosaurs, while others are more fantasy in nature or just really odd, like a Mr. Domo-style bunny head.
The lanes are easy to see, though as they become more and more packed, their thin, almost wispy nature fades farther into the background. It would have been nice to have something a bit more solid on at the end, apart from your heroes, to signify where the enemy attack line is. The amount of grey that shows up towards the end of the game really hurts as well, especially when buffs/debuffs that aren't armored carry the same coloring.
Minor bumps about color and my own lacking of skill aside, the only thing I found really jarring was the overall length of the game. Stretching close to 25 monsters, there was no game I played that took less then and hour and a half to finish. That is a really long time to be playing a single match-3 game. Dungeon Hearts does allow for saving/resuming mid-game, but I found a lot of runs to be spoiled by starting with all the different kinds of buffs without the gradual build-up and momentum that comes from the first few monsters. There is an achievement for completing a run in less then 40 minutes, but that simply tells me that those kinds of runs only come with a lot of time and experience, and I am not really sure that, despite the fun I did have with it, I want to spend that much time to get to where I can play a quick game.
Weird as well is their inclusion of an endless mode, especially when the only other mode is the long main monster run. I can see the point of it in something soothing like a zen mode where there are no life or time constraints, but with the escalating pressure and just overwhelming amount of things coming at you in the end game, working towards and through that with no end in site sounds like no fun at all.
I am going to end my little rant about DH running to long with this thought: the game is 3 bucks on Steam. For that price, length is a very minor, and ultimately little thing to quibble about. For fans of the match-3, there is a lot of fun to be had here. There is an amazing amount of depth and strategy here, certainly more then I was expecting when I first booted it up.
Overall, Dungeon Hearts is an excellent addition to the genre. Its combo of rpg and match play is really quite fun, especially if you don't mind spending some time with it. While not the best for a quick pick up and play, there's enough depth to keep it installed on my machine for a long time.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!