Shifting their attention to the mobile market for the first time, long-time online game creators Artix Entertainment focus on bringing their hugely successful browser setting (as seen in solo title ‘Adventure Quest’ and MMORPG ‘Adventure Quest Worlds’) to a new audience.
Unlike their battle-heavy turn-based browser games, Artix has chosen to take on the hugely popular match-3 puzzle game template for their first foray into the mobile world. Against tough and pre-established competition as well as big-name brands (Ghostbusters, Adventure Time, Magic: The gathering and Doctor Who to name just four!) the title may seem like a lightweight, but a loyal fanbase of gamers bred on their other works and an expanding casual gamer audience has seen Battle Gems make headway.
Graphically the game takes its cues from the design of the Adventure Quest setting, but takes it through a more cartoony filter that sees everything rendered in an excellent 2D illustrated style. Weapons, monsters and armour will all be familiar to players of Artix’s other titles, but the art used here has its own style and visual identity that allows it to stand alone. Whilst the games graphical presentation is top-notch, it does suffer from some unimaginative glyphs used for the puzzle portion of the screen, which don’t show as much care and attention as the other assets. The option to design your own character at the games start, which appears not only on the title screen but is used frequently in dialogue sequences, helps to make the game feel personalised. Buttons are well spaced for larger hands and playing rarely obscures what you need to be looking at on-screen.
Sound is solid, if uninspired and often forgettable. Nothing feels particularly out of place but everything seems to settle into the background in such a way that you have to pay attention to notice it. Whilst this isn’t much of a problem for the games cartoon inspired sound effects, it does pose a problem for the soundtrack, which fails to lend any memorable tracks.
In terms of narrative structure, Battle Gems goes above and beyond the remit that it had to live up to. Approached in the same way that one may a Saturday morning cartoon show, the game kicks you out into its world with a ‘go there to kill that’ motto that leads the player to believe that the experience is going to be fairly light on dialogue. The reality is far from the truth however, because this game possesses a witty and well-crafted script that delights in throwing pop culture references, small titbits of narrative information and genre-savvy quips in your direction. Your own character will often pop up to break the fourth wall when these become especially groan worthy in a well-timed manner that genuinely makes the player chuckle. The quest is set out almost visually, without the need for words. The player is able to pan the screen up and down to see both their progress and how much further they need to travel, with the full map of the game on one long screen. You’ll be panning quite a while across a weaving track with plenty of shortcuts and side-show attractions before making it to the distant top, and that’s what the game has to say about the goal. It’s not the end that justifies this games existence, it’s the journey it takes to get there that it aims to make you enjoy.
Gameplay is tried and true, with the games map containing a weaving path that occasionally splits and intersects to provide you with a diverse series of points to explore. Most of these will contain puzzle-based battles that are the meat of this title, though some do feature comedy exchanges or challenges instead. These are fairly standard ‘link icons of the same type’ stages that see you grouping various gems to attack, use magic, use your pet’s attack, etc and are fairly enjoyable if not hugely original. The monsters you face make it interesting however, producing a variety of special rules and fun challenges to add wrinkles to combat. Victory means money, and money means gear, which is a big part of the game. Unlocking all of the gear for each tier adds permanent stat boosts to your character and can be used to play dress-up to create the character you want to see on-screen. It’s a novel system which encourages careful thinking. Do you purchase the next big sword on the list or do you stick in the lower-levels of the store buying up cheaper gear for more consistent stat boosts? Pets are also brought here and each has their own action in addition to being pulled from a broad list of jokes, myths and characters. Everything runs on an energy system that recovers with time but limits play. This can be purchased out entirely with a one-shot real-cash payment that’s similar to their ‘Guardian Status’ in their other games and allows you to play as and when you want. The fact that this option was included at all shows that Artix are thinking about what gamers want to see in addition to what will make them the most money and finding a balance between the two.
Overall, Battle Gems is an excellent first showing for Artix on the mobile market. With work on-going on an Adventure Quest 3D and heavily rumoured to be targeted at touch devices we may be seeing a lot more of this shared world soon. With the base-game completely free to download and try and the energy removal being a reasonable sum of money rather than a small fortune I’d advise anybody who enjoys the likes of Candy Crush to take this game out for a test drive. Perhaps it will make you think twice before shelling out money on that title.