The endless tide of Match-3 RPG hybrid titles seems to have slowed down of late, and attempts to really dive into a blend of the two that goes beyond ‘Match-3 that resembles combat’ have become rare. The original Gunspell was released on mobile and Steam in 2014 and stood out in the crowd of anime-styled titles by have a strong WRPG vibe and modern supernatural fantasy setting. It’s sequel arrived early 2020 and looks to build on that formula.
Developed by AKPublish pty Ltd, who have also worked on ‘Codex of Victory’ and ‘Magic Siege – Castle Defender’, Gunspell 2 serves as a rare, direct sequel to the campaign mode found in the original title, and doubles down on the RPG in this hybrid title in a way that hasn’t really been seen since ‘PuzzleQuest’ bowed out of the scene in favour of IP tie-ins across multiple mediums. This makes for some great systems, but the freemium nature of the title still mires it down with login rewards, premium currency and energy meters that can make progression feel gated at times.
Graphically the title uses a European comicbook art style that has clearly been drawn over photographs for realistic reference. This looks different to the usual American comic or Manga stylings seen in the mobile market and does give a good sense of atmosphere and realism. Occasionally however the reference photos are a little too easy to spot under the design, and the likeness of Anthony Steward Head (Giles from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’) is a too obvious to be coincidence. The interactive elements of the game are well implemented, with everything roughly figure sized and easy to use with a thumb, and background/monster artwork is of a great quality.
Audio is strong, with use of an ambient and haunting soundtrack and it VERY good from the get-go. Guitar chords are melded with ominous tones, and melodies have a gothic tone to them sampled with modern instruments that really pulls everything together. There are sadly not as many tracks as I’d like to see on offer, but those that there are manage to pump home the exact tome that the game is looking for. Sound effects are a little weak by comparison, being relegated to the background. This feels fine for menu selection and shuffling icons on the board, but when you trigger that huge spell you’ve been playing to power up, it can be a little underwhelming when it doesn’t rock the same level of audio as the fast-paced combat cues.
The game’s narrative picks up as a direct sequel of the one found in the original Gunspell title. You play as John D. codename ‘Gunspell’, returning to active duty within the Order after the conclusion of that game, and are quickly pressed back into service when a demon attacks a local mall. Charged with keeping the incursion quiet whilst clearing the area of anything the breathes, you load up and head out. What follows is a relatively open campaign, with character specific multi-arc missions serving to fill out the big picture. Needless to say, the world is in peril and it’s your job to fix it. The writing never really stumbles, but never rises above a series of clichés, feeling like a popcorn flick or a season of a fun but quirky television show.
Missions will see you exploring a hex-based grid map, locating shops, items, cash and battling monsters on your way to eliminate a target. Usually these maps also include a random encounter rate that is a tad on the high side, but manageable. This serves to make each mission a gauntlet of mining items and experience whilst managing health to take on the end boss. Some also include NPCs that discuss and alter the narrative, which serves to feed into the RPG side of this mashup nicely. Battles, when they occur, are fought on a diamond shaped hexagonal grid on which standard match-3 rules apply. Because of the shape change, matches of 4 now clear a row whilst crossed matches clear 2 rows in both directions, with icons including the traditional skulls for damage of varying amounts and coloured jewels for energy in addition to tokens that build a ‘luck’ gauge to trigger a bonus turn. The aim is to whittle away an enemy’s shield and HP whilst keeping your own healthy, which can be difficult as icons renew shields but not health. Certain matches trigger bonus positive and negative passive effects to inflict on eachother, and items equipped to your character act as skills that when charged can be fired off to various effects. Spellbooks unique to each character (of which you collect multiple throughout play) are stocked with single use spells that you receive in chests and through the store, and these can swing harder battles back into your favour. This is all slightly gated behind freemium mechanic however. Logging in each day yields rewards that increase in usefulness as you chain successive days up to 30 in a row, and the store has a free spell each day with a second if you watch an advert. This is fairly generous, but other advancements can feel like a slow burn designed to encourage you to pay out for extras to ease the burden of grinding. This will be make or break for a lot of people. The game has a function PVP setup in its arena mode, engaging in single round battles with other’s character builds, but this is often used to gate progress, with aspects of Story Mode locked behind ‘reach rank x’ in the arena before you can continue. This can be a time consuming and aggravating progress as you reach ranks where other players have clearly invested financially in the game.
Overall the title is fun, but it suffers from some problems on bootup as it fails to connect first time to the server and from the usual walling of a freemium title. Should they choose to release a premium edition of this game on Steam it would likely be an extremely solid experience. The atmosphere is very well implemented and individual character stories in addition to an over-arching narrative to enjoy is a great way to world build that more games should try, but the limited access to these and funnelling into the online arena mode instead makes the title loose speed quickly. Give the game a download and play it for yourself, it won’t cost you anything to try.