The sweet spot of game design is being able to tap into that part of the brain where instant gratification meets compulsion to push forward. It is this simple, yet delicate, balance that is right in the wheelhouse of puzzle games, particularly those on mobile devices. Games with easy-to-pick-up mechanics like Bejeweled, Peggle, or even Tetris are accessible to anyone, but provide endless challenge and replayability once they get you hooked.
Bejeweled in particular is an example of a ‘Match Three’ game, in which the player must do just that; match three of a particular color/shape/whatever to progress. Have you ever wondered what would happen if somebody took that basic premise and wrapped it up in a JRPG coating? Well, wonder no more because here comes Dungeon Hearts, a cool idea for an iOS game… except I played it on PC.
As mentioned above, Dungeon Hearts is at its core a ‘match three’ puzzle game. Puzzles take the form of JRPG battles in which you must move a series of shapes so they are either in a straight line or in an ‘L’ shape. Clicking on them turns them into a single diamond, which another click will turn into an attack on the enemy at hand. The strength and types of attacks depend on how many diamonds you are able to create and chain together, and don’t dillydally because the colors scroll from right to left on a horizontal plane called the ‘Fatestream’… yup, it’s a JRPG all right.
As you progress, this game introduces constraints such as that some of the shapes can’t move. Also, different kinds of enemy attacks emerge which have various effects on your team (none of them good). Some include reduced defense, poison, etc. It’s your standard fare if you’ve ever played a Final Fantasy game. Along with the ‘line up and fight’ structure, Dungeon Hearts has a story that is JRPG 101 all the way, complete with spiky-haired, androgynous heroes. According to the synopsis, each has suffered at the hand of a being called ‘The Dark One’, and band together to destroy it once and for all. *Yawn*
Each character (color coded along with the runes) has specific strengths and abilities at their disposal. One can heal, another has a critical attack, another can slow down the Fatestream so you can catch your breath or line up a devastating move. The unique characteristics of these team members is a nice touch, but honestly I spent 99% of my time scrambling to stave off attacks and make combinations of any color. I suppose if you’re super fast and skilled, you can play to the strengths of certain characters, but I’d wager that most people would struggle to just keep the enemy attacks at bay. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it kind of renders the idea of specialized characters useless.
I will admit, as much as it kicked my ass, Dungeon Hearts does a great job of pulling you in and making you play ‘just one more battle’ until your hand can’t take it any more; yes, until you physically can’t play the game anymore because your hand is so sore. The only control scheme available for this game on PC is to move runes around with the mouse and click on sets of three to activate the attack rune. It is intuitive enough, but the combination of only being able to use a mouse with a constant timer to manipulate runes can be absolute murder and is sure to cause repetitive strain injury if you’re not careful.
Don’t get me wrong; this game is a pretty decent puzzle game and it’s a solid challenge especially once some of the more serious enemy attacks hit the board. I found myself being completely engrossed in the gameplay even though I don’t generally like these kinds of games and I REALLY don’t like JRPG/anime tropes. Dungeon Hearts had me absolutely hooked, but then it forced me to stop playing for the aforementioned reasons. It’s really too bad there wasn’t a controller option or something. Better yet, it really needs to be on a touch screen.
If you’re not turned off by the fact that you can only realistically play this game in 5-10 minute bursts, Dungeon Hearts is a really neat little twist on both match three games and JRPG conventions. The PC is just simply not suited to this game however, and you’d be way better served getting it on the iPad for the same price. Your mouse hand will thank you for it.
[+Easy to play, hard to master] [+Cute spin on puzzle games] [+Versatile to different skill levels] [-Will KILL your mouse hand] [-Ill suited to PC]