10000000 and DungeonRaid: Dungeon-Crawling Puzzle Games for the iPhone

I’ve recently been playing two different iPhone games that mix casual game mechanics with a deeper dungeon-delving theme. 10000000 and DungeonRaid do very different things with this approach, but both of them manage to make something deeper and more interesting out of simple matching games.


10000000 is a game in the simple match-3 style. The screen has a grid of icons, and you drag a single row or column to create lines of at least three matching symbols. These symbols disappear and new ones appear. There are bonuses, of course, for getting longer lines and chains. The twist is that a tiny rectangle at the top of the screen shows your avatar running through a never-ending tunnel. The two weapon icons are used to attack monsters, and keys get you past doors and treasure chests. Other symbols provide usable items, resources, or protection from attacks. As time goes on, the character drifts towards the left end of the screen, but he gets a jump forward with every encounter beaten. When he reaches the left edge, the game ends.

There is an unexplained metagame around all of this. After each game ends, you return to a some sort of tower that you are trying to escape from. As you collect more resources, you “build” rooms where you can buy stronger equipment and abilities, allowing you to fight better. There are accomplishments to aim for, from scoring thresholds to specific combos or killing strokes, and as you check them off, you’ll be able to enter progressively harder dungeons. These offer larger point multipliers, and eventually you’ll be able to hit 10,000,000 points – and freedom.

I found it a lot more fun to play a Bejeweled game with a strict time limit and strategies that make you focus on different shapes at different times. In fact, I would say that the basic game structure was excellent. There were a few things that made it frustrating for me, though. One was the way the controls felt. Maybe it’s unavoidable when there is a 7×8 grid crammed into an iPhone screen, but it’s difficult to choose and move items accurately.

Also, the natural progression of 10,000,000 reminded me of the casual game techniques that I’d hoped it would rise above. Because you get some gold and resources even if you die quickly, you’ll be able to buy upgrades regularly, so you’ll progress towards victory no matter what. I’d prefer a way to measure whether I’m moving forward efficiently or not, or even a factor that threatens to make me lose. Instead, there’s no real challenge to the overall metagame.

True, after winning, I was told that I’d spent four hours and twenty minutes total in the dungeons. (It would have been even better to know how many lives it had taken.) My immediate thought was “Cool! I wonder how fast I can go through it next time!” But after victory, it just opens up an infinite free-play mode, in which you can keep playing with all the abilities and items that the game offers. That’s actually kind of boring, since some of those abilities change the fundamental balance of the game, and there are no longer accomplishments to aim for. It’s interesting to choose which order to buy the upgrades in, but I made most of those decisions before I really knew what I was doing. It would be fun to fight through it with different strategies, or just to see how much my abilities have improved. Instead, the times I’ve tried to return to the game have been pretty uninteresting.

I still enjoyed most of those initial four hours, and that makes the game worthwhile. But it’s amazing, and frustrating, to realize how much some minor tweaks to the game could have changed it from an ok experience to a classic that I’d keep returning to.

Grade: B-


In contrast, DungeonRaid does feel like that replayable classic. It looks pretty simple, just a 6×6 grid with five types of symbols. You draw a line that meanders through matching ones, and they are all cleared. The dungeon theme comes from the fact that some of these symbols are monsters, which must be matched with swords in order to kill them. They attack after each move you make.The other symbols restore your armor, health, or give you gold. You get stronger as you gain gold and experience, but the monsters do as well. Eventually you’ll die. And if the games are taking you too long, there are different difficulty levels.

It may not sound complex, but there are special abilities that give it a lot of variety. It reminds me of Dominion in the way that a simple ruleset can be tweaked in a lot of interesting ways. There are dozens of skills, only four of which you can gain in one game. A game in which you can automatically collect all shields every couple dozen moves is very different from one in which you can freeze enemies for a turn or “teleport” to replace all symbols. Your weapon and armor upgrades also offer a lot of options, but you’ll have to focus if you want to grow fast enough to outpace the enemies. There are also eight character classes and races to choose from, each one with strengths and weaknesses. Finally, special monsters appear from time to time with abilities that may be devastating or inconsequential, depending on your situation. (The Healer can be a big problem if you try to wear your enemies down slowly with spikes and poison, and if your strategy involves building up your armor, the Corrosive monster will be a huge threat.)

 

Though there’s a lot of chance to the game, there is real strategy – both in the choices you make in the matching game and the abilities you go with. A lot of thought went into this. The controls feel natural, and there are many subtle UI elements to help you notice if your armor is out or tell how long you have until skills become available for use. I have one major complaint here, because the sounds are really annoying, but if you turn them off, you’ll miss cues telling you when your health is low or a skill is ready. Otherwise, though, it makes a very complex game feel simple and friendly from the start. (I also want to commend them for the huge number of funny introductory screens they made. Each game starts with a brief story telling you how you ended up in the dungeon, and I’m still seeing new ones after hundreds of games.)

I wish the balance were a little better. Some skills and abilities seem much less useful than others (collecting every border tile is excellent; collecting extras when you draw loops is difficult to set up), and certain combinations of abilities are very powerful when gained together. As a solitaire game, it’s acceptable to have chance play such a large role, but the extremes feel a little too great.

Still, I keep coming back to this game. It’s the first one I’ve found in a long time that’s so addictive that I’m trying to teach myself not to waste time on it. There are enough differences from game to game that, despite the simple appearance, it stays interesting long-term. I’m still learning new quirks of it, and I haven’t even tried out all of the customization options for characters. I’ll be playing this for a long time.

Grade: A-

 
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  1. March 12th, 2013

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