By Jorge Figueiredo - August 22nd, 2014


It is incredible how many variants there are of the “match-three” type of hand-held game, and it is amazing how many of them are different enough to be entertaining. Backflip Studios’ Spellfall is one of the more interesting free-to-play match-three games that I have seen lately, blending both puzzle and role-playing game elements to give it some distinction. Game-play is enjoyable enough to offset the in-app purchases, making for a fun, strategy-filled experience.

The plot of Spellfall is nothing to really write home about: there are monsters and only you have the power to stop them by using magic (the field of gems laid out in a grid in front of you). Basic game-play is straightforward: making a match of thee gems (in a line) does damage to your opponent (the gems disappear from the board and the gems above them fall down to take their place), and you have a limited number of turns each round before your enemy goes on the attack. Back and forth the turns go until one of you has no more life force. However, there are a few nice twists to the typical match-three mechanics that make Spellfall more enjoyable than other similar games.

First, you do not have to move gems to adjacent spots in the grid. Matches can be made by moving a gem (using the touch interface) anywhere you like! In fact, you can even move gems to spots that don’t result in a match, giving you more flexibility in your quest to do as much damage as possible by creating chain reactions. Secondly, creating a match more than three gems leaves behind a special gem that is capable of clearing an entire row or column (depending on the orientation of the original set of four) once placed in another matching set. Matching gems in a “T” or “L” formation (or any variant of those) with three or more gems in each line of the shape creates a two-way (row and column) mass gem-buster. Combining these two different mechanics gives the player the ability to set up some spectacular combinations – which does massive amounts of damage to the opponent. Sometimes special glowing gems will appear on the screen, which will trigger an ultimate elemental attach when they are part of a match. Finally, it should be mentioned that some beasties are vulnerable to a certain type of gem (fire, nature, water, etc.), increasing your on-the-fly planning.

Setting these up can be rewarding and awesome!

Special powers and abilities also become available as you play the game, becoming charged by matching certain gem types and then released with a simple touch. Running low on health? Heal yourself! Want to take a bite out of the enemy? Poison! In addition, equipment (weapons, armor and runes) can be attained (using the in-game currency that you receive from winning matches) that will enhance your abilities (or increase the number of slots that you can use at once) – but you have to make the choice of whether you want to work for them gradually or bite the bullet and spend a little money. If you are a patient and methodical person, taking your time to craft a sound upgrade strategy won’t really cost you very much. However, should you kick the bucket due to your bad luck in terms of healing yourself (read: you forgot to heal yourself), you will have to wait until your health recharges. Of course, if you are from the school of instant gratification, you can fork over moolah to continue playing for the day.

Now, I’m not against developers making money, especially when the production value of the game is high. Spellfall looks and sounds great, and the game-play is pretty amazing – so there’s no issue there; and the in-app purchases, while numerous (and made very obvious by the developer), are entirely optional and can save you days worth of repetitive playing just to get what you like. I can even forgive the idea of paying a small fee to continue (this is reminiscent of the “insert quarter to continue” model used in arcade games). However, paying a buck to do so seems somewhat over-the-top, especially considering that the odds seem very much stacked against the player in the early stages (to buy back health, you have to spend in-game money, and to get in-game money, you’d have to win it by playing or spend the minimum amount to buy it with real money – one dollar). The first day that I played, I had a hard time surviving for a long time, so I would have to wait a long time to play again. While this may not be an issue for me (due to the number of games that I play on the go, in the name of review coverage), it might be a problem for people that either don’t have the time or patience to play more than one game. After that first stinging defeat, I realized that health did not go back to full between encounters, so I was a bit smarter with the way that I played and managed to really get a good run going.

Lots to choose from. Use in-app or real cash to grab these if you like.

As with any freemium game, I offer the advice of having some patience and some kindness. First of all, you don’t need to buy every single thing (even if that special piece of equipment in the shop is a limited time item and may never appear again). No, you can really enjoy the hell out of this game with some careful planning. That being said, this is a pretty fantastic game, and should be supported by fans. If you play this game all the time, it would be nice for you to toss the developer some money by buying something once in a while.

Spellfall is an excellent product. Game production quality is really great (graphics and audio are fantastic), the game-play is addictive, and there are a number of levels to cut your teeth on (and you can re-play previous levels as well). The only negative bit in this game is the heavy reliance and “marketing” for in-app purchases. However, as I mentioned before, it is actually quite easy to overlook these once you really get the hang of this game. You can check out Spellfall on iTunes, which is available for iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad.

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