Perhaps the strangest fusion of genres, Mine Quest is the product of mixing an RPG with Picross. If that isn’t enough to peek your curiosity then I don’t know what is.
Tapps Games is a massively prolific studio, founded in 2012 and already having over 200 titles on iOS, Android and Windows Phones. Many of these fall into the realms of simple puzzle or social titles that share graphical resources, but occasional gems amidst a sea of releases shine like diamonds in the rough. Mine Quest is one such title, showing a surprising depth for such a simple concept.
Visually, Mine Quest is a pure-2D experience that uses a variety of nicely drawn stock images from the Tapps Games communal resource. The world-map is reminiscent of a current RPG Maker production, featuring details and various terrain over which hovers a hot air balloon that represents the player’s current position at any given time. Inside dungeons (here called ‘Mines’) similar 2D illustrations are used to represent both the floor and walls, as well as a variety of different block types through which the player will click through. It’s not especially inspiring to look at, but monsters are nicely animated and detailed when they appear on the map and there are a variety of game-exclusive pieces of artwork that are particularly pretty. Over-all everything is serviceable and of a polished standard.
Music in Mine Quest takes the form of short loops, usually using only one or two synthetic instruments. The title screen and world map are particularly guilty of this, however each ‘island’ that the player visits has its own short tune that represents its theme (ice, fire, grassland, etc) relatively well and the use of sound effects at all times helps to build a better sense of world than music alone could manage. Sound can be as simple as the wind blowing and as visceral as smashing rocks with your pickaxe, an action you’ll be doing a lot of. Exploration is charted by digging and different materials sound completely different under the hammer, leading to quite a satisfying experience. Buttons and items also click and bleet in an arcade-like fashion that is easy on the ears.
Unlike many examples of a casual RPG in the ‘clicker’ vein, the storyline in Mine Quest is quite well developed, with an animated introduction and Easter Island heads placed around the world map to chat to for exposition. New areas also come with short periods of banter between the main character (a Dwarf) and his companion (a Fairy) that are usually comical in design. The premise is that the pair belong to a bigger colony that works the mines. One day they delve deeper than they are supposed to and encounter a strange rock that when hit with your pickaxe emits a blinding light. When their vision returns the other Dwarves and Fairies have vanished, and returning to the surface they find their world in ruin and that their continent can split into a number of different islands. In short whole millennia have passed. It’s up to them to dig up the ruins of their former friends and work out what happened, perhaps even finding a way home. They need to be careful however, because monsters now frequent the land.
Gameplay is extremely simple but somehow at the same time massively compelling. All you can do is click one square of the world at a time, losing a point of energy (that recharges slowly) as you do so. No energy means no more clicking and the option is there to pay real money to refill your meter or to wait an hour or so to play again with a full bar. The world map is darkened and clicking a space at a time reveals if anything is underneath your hovering balloon. Sometimes this is nothing, other times money or hearts that replenish health will bounce out, but what you’re really looking for are Mines, which act as the games dungeons. Entering a mine is where the game takes its inspiration from Picross. Here you must clear out areas that are full of dirt, rocks, coal and more by clicking them, opening out rooms and clearing a path to find the treasures that lay within. Sometimes breaking dirt will yield nothing, but small amounts of health and cash are common, as are the occasional energy restoring items. Tougher rocks require more hits the break but give you materials from which you can use the plans you uncover in the mine to build better pickaxes, weapons and armour in addition to a new hot air balloon that will enable you to reach and explore the next island. Monsters also get uncovered and hit you back when you touch them, reducing your health dramatically. Each touch deals them damage based on your equipment however and you can clear them from the board. Doing so is vital because they block exploration by disabling your ability to click in a small square around them, often blocking routes through the mine. If killed you have a 5 minute wait time before automatically popping back to like (revived by the fairy with 10HP) or can immediately jump back in with a small payment (that I never felt was necessary to complete the game). There are also treasures to collect by type with sets yielding bonuses that can be spent on upgrading health, energy reserves and energy reload time, all of which are very handy. Creating new items takes place in real time and the games energy system makes it best suited for short, sharp sessions and then long breaks throughout the day. Some humor (and the linking of this title to Picross) comes from pinching to zoom out on a dungeon once it has been cleared, as several of them are in fact the shapes of monsters or characters found in the game.
Overall, Mine Quest can be praised for its simplicity and lack of forced freemium content (ads pop up frequently on the title screen but not in play) but it’s hard to quantify it as an RPG. It does however feature a levelling system, different kinds of tools, equipment and weaponry and uses essentially a turn based method for combat, which (alongside it labelling itself as one) is enough to tick the boxes to include it here on MBU. It’s a great game for casual play and doesn’t require any commitment or daily check-ins, but it won’t fuel those looking for a meatier experience.