Spellfall is part of the new wave of Puzzle RPGs that started with Puzzle Quest before passing the torch to Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes then finally coming to rest securely in the mobile market. Whilst the app stores are now flooded with the little blighters, Backflip Studios has managed to produce a hidden gem.
Before we get started I want to make my position clear on ‘pay-to-win’ or ‘freemium’ games. I’m not a fan, I’d rather just shell out my £1.99 and get a whole game with no in app purchases. That said the model works and whilst Candy Crush Saga proves how massively evil some of these companies are (really evil in their case!), I don’t begrudge buying something in a game in order to donate cash to a developer who has impressed me. I did exactly this in Spellfall after week 5 when realized I was still playing it. I don’t expect my games to be free, and let’s be honest if they all were they’d be pretty darn shocking in quality and content. On the other hand some games are completely able to be completed without spending a penny but throw adds at you to provoke a panic buy, I’m not a fan of that and Spellfall can be an offender in this case. Ignore the product’s money making tactics however and you will have a darn good time.
Graphically Spellfall uses a 3D engine that is great to look at and implies real depth into the backgrounds (of which each area has its own and they are very pretty) the player character and monsters have a Disney-like vibe to their designs and you get a range of interesting monsters to kill and some brilliant bosses to challenge you. One encounter with an armour wearing red fire dragon is particularly memorable. Your avatar is customized as you go depending on the equipment you have and for the most part it all looks pretty cool, with the odd exception. Menus and background maps are drawn well and overall the package is very attractive and stands out against a mountain of cheap looking alternatives.
Sound is also solid, there’s a selection of sound effects that are more than adequate to get the job done and some are very nice indeed, especially the satisfying sound of a row of shapes going up in flames. The music goes largely unnoticed until you realize that the opening theme you skip past on launching the game goes on for longer than the opening few bars you tend to hear and into a beautiful little melody. For a mobile game these production standards are appreciated, even if most players will do so with the sound off at work or on the morning commute.
The plot is straight forward enough. The Spell Fall caused elements to become scattered and monsters to run wild, you are an apprentice wizard who has grabbed his spell book and headed out to see what he can do to fix it. You don’t get any evolution past the initial introduction, but flavor text accompanies every boss encounter to move the story along and let you know who they are within the games world. I would have liked more, but what you get is well done and I’m not going to nit-pick at the setup.
Gameplay is match-3 or more with you being able to swap two elements anywhere on the grid. Doing so causes a spell of that element to attack the monster on the right who will have his own HP and be attacking you after a few turns. Elemental weaknesses, strength and speed vary and some have special attacks to watch out for because they alter the way you use the board. Gathering 4 or more elements causes them to group and then they can be fired off for bigger damage. You can also collect gold coins from the board or wait for a small cash inflow from felled monsters along with Experience points and Rune points to level your skills. You max out at level 25, which honestly feels low but does prevent you out grinding the games challenge.
Armour and Weapons can be purchased from a shop that stocks the last 5 items you found, one is added and one lost after each battle so you need to be quick to buy them. These have stat boosting value and slots into which Runes can be placed. These come in two flavors, rock-like passive abilities (leech life from attacks, boost fire damage, etc) or spells that can be used in combat and require charging a gauge before they can be fired. Nothing feels useless here and its a tribute to the games design that you want to collect them all. Money also accumulates on areas you’ve cleared over real-time so you have an incentive to pop back quickly to grab it and play a round. Instead of using an energy counter your HP is restored over time, meaning that playing well is rewarded or just using HP restoring spells or passive skills can extend your play time.
The game has two other features I found interesting outside the main system. Cleared zones can be recaptured by the boss, who will then slowly grab back areas if left unchecked, which is great for grinding and can lead to rare shiny monsters who drop better loot. The second is a reward scheme where every day you get something (exp, money, rune points, an item) free and at the end of 20 straight days you get to choose an Elemental Sword that is exceptionally useful and levels with the player. Once all 5 swords have been collected 5 suits of armour with their own special abilities and which also level with you are then available. These are all free (though you could be a fool and spend £60 on one early!) and if you forget to log in you can pay in game gold to catch back up to where you left off. It’s almost like the guys at Backflip Studios are aware that the pay to win scheme is overpriced and decided to give you the good stuff just for sticking with them rather than storming off in outrage. A position I can respect.
At the end of the day people are going to moan that I gave this game a perfect 5 out of 5 and Dragon Age Inquisition just 4. However that game was full of bugs and cost me £50 on launch to buy, with DLC expected at £15ish a pop. This game is FREE and you don’t need to pay to win at it (I know, I have done so!) its generously designed, beautiful to look at and listen to and shows genuine customer care. I am 100% behind Backflip on this product and having learned of the New Game+ feature it will be on my phone for a good time to come. Download it now!