Before we get into this review, I have to admit that I’m not that big into casual games and I’m even less into the free-to-play variety. I had somehow managed to avoid the craze around Bejeweled, Candy Crush and their clones, known as “match-three” type games with simplistic, yet highly-addictive game-play that has a tight reward loop in order to keep you hooked. Even though many of my friends, family and coworkers were talking about them (and were constantly sending out invites to play), I was just not interested.
Recently, however, I did get into a mobile game called 10000000, which is a match-three type game with RPG elements and a retro aesthetic. I found it to be an enjoyable time-killer when I had a few minutes to spare. Gem Wizard, developed by Pixelmatic for iOS and Android, is also advertised as a match-three game with RPG elements and a crafting system, so I figured that I’d give it a try and see if it had the same appeal.
Upon startup you are immediately presented with the choice to login as a guest or link it up with a Facebook account in order save progress and play against friends online. Following that, you are greeted by a smiling wizard koala who welcomes you to the secret world of Gemino, a place filled with wonder and magic and I’m going to guess…gems? You then get to select your starting weapon, a magical staff, a sword or a dagger and an accompanying gem. The gem provides you with a magical ability: fire (burns tiles); air (increases luck); water (slows time) and mind (drops matching tiles). A quick tutorial then explains the mechanics of the game, which basically requires you to just tap any matches of 3 or more tiles as quickly as possible in the 60 seconds that you are given (as more tiles randomly drop on the board). During the round you can also tap your gem to unleash your magic ability, which then has a cooldown period before you can use it again. If you chain together enough matches in a row the game goes into an accelerated mode where matched tiles also cause surrounding tiles to explode. At the end of the round, it goes into a final bonus mode that uses your special weapon to destroy tiles randomly and points are added to your score based on your weapon rating.
Upon round completion, you can post your accomplishments on Facebook or Twitter and then you are rewarded with coins, charms, recipes and various items (including twigs, gem dust and metals). These items can be combined together with three like items and crafted into more refined gems (which have better stats), and even more powerful weapons (which require you to use a recipe to craft). You can then attach the refined gems to your weapon in order to use them in the next round. If you want to skip ahead, you can use coins or charms that you have earned from playing (or bought with real world cash), to purchase gems and weapons from the store. The charms are also used to purchase more rounds. You start off with enough energy to play five rounds and an additional round is earned after 20 minutes of cooldown time. If you don’t want to wait you can go ahead a purchase more energy with your charms for more rounds.
So many gems…
The game-play mechanic is somewhere between popping bubble wrap and playing a slot machine. There are no real puzzle elements and no strategy to the game-play; it’s just about how quick you can tap the tiles and use your gems, while the tiles simply fall randomly across your board. Due to this, I found the experience to be a bit over-simplistic. However, I did enjoy the crafting element – collecting and combining the items to make refined gems and weapons was satisfying and provided a distraction while waiting to earn enough energy for another round.
As for looks, the game has bright, colourful, cartoony graphics – a similar appearance to many of the other free-to-play puzzle games on the market. During game-play there is a lot of action on the screen and sound effects to go with it while you frantically tap the tiles and your gems to set off your magic abilities with an accompanying animation.
Overall, the game will likely appeal to those casual gamers who rabidly play these types of games on Facebook or mobile devices, and enjoy broadcasting their accomplishments on social media, but it won’t make any converts of those who look for more depth (in terms of game-play) or who are skeptical about the free-to-play model.