Saturday, February 23, 2008

Spandex Force Review

Spandex Force, developed and published by KarjaSoft.
The Good: Interesting mix of puzzle and battle mechanics, neat mini-games and gameplay variations, varied upgradable powers, nice art design
The Not So Good: No multiplayer
What say you? Classic match-three puzzles enhanced with mixed styles and role-playing elements: 6/8

Though I like reviewing the occasional (or, depending on how many games I am receiving, more than occasional) puzzle game, getting the same type of puzzle game over and over is something I would like to avoid. It seems like one of the most popular puzzle game types are those match-3 games. You know, where you have to…match…three. In order for a game like this to entertain me at this point, it has to offer something new. Spandex Force injects some superhero themes into the classic puzzle game. Will this be enough to save the game from the overbearing influence of monotony?

The best part about the graphics of Spandex Force is the overall theme. While the basic puzzle game is fairly standard stuff graphically speaking, the town you are fighting crime in, though rendered in 2-D, looks good. The superhero and criminal designs are nice but repetitive. The powers that are used during the puzzle games should look better: as they are, simple orbs of light fly across the screen instead of actually seeing your hero deliver a punch to an enemy. Animating the actual fights would have made the game be more effective. The sound effects are average for the genre: appropriate matching sounds and battle effects are included, as well as fitting background music. Overall, the presentation of Spandex Force is pretty good, thanks to the good superhero atmosphere.

Spandex Force certainly has its roots in the match-3 puzzle genre, but thankfully it adds supplementary features to spice up the gameplay. The game follows your superhero avatar as they fight crime around the city. You can detect criminals or people in need that are around your crime fighting base, and selecting any interesting person will activate a mini-game or a matching puzzle, depending on who it is (for example, getting a cat down from a tree activates the “slide and match” game type). There is a good variety of games to choose from that provide just enough variety to keep you interested in the game for a while. The mini-games include a slot machine and a minesweeper-like “find the criminal” game; both of these are short and grant small resource bonuses. The real meat of Spandex Force takes place in the assorted puzzle games: match three in a row, manual selection of matches, sliding entire rows or columns, or shooting to make groups. Normally these four game types would be present in four completely different games, but Spandex Force includes them all. While Spandex Force could shine as a multiplayer title, there is no support for one-on-one competition either online or on the same computer. Since the basic battles are turn-based, it seems like this feature could easily be implemented so its exclusion is a bit mysterious.

Most of your time will be spent in the standard match-three game, and this mode involves the most fighting mechanics. The match-3 battles are turn-based and both players use the same board. There are several types of blocks you can match: mind, body, spirit, cash, and reputation. The first three of these go towards activating attacks that can be used during your turn to damage your opponent. The last two help you expand your crime fighting empire. There is some interesting strategy concerning when to use up your resources and attack, as you are more likely to counter an attack if you have a large amount of stored resources. This mechanic is certainly not present in any other puzzle game I can remember, so it’s a unique feature. The AI also plays very fair (the computer opponents could seriously cheat) and matches well with user experience. Games that don’t feature confrontation (like putting out a fire or helping old ladies) require you to meet a specified threshold of resources rather than battle an enemy head-on (apply directly to the forehead). After successful battles, you will earn additional cash and reputation (on top of the matches you made during the game) that will be used to upgrade your base, purchase new, more powerful attacks, and stat increases. Once you get past the introductory levels, the world of Spandex Force opens up as you gain experience and fight more determined foes. I really like how Spandex Force takes a frankly monotonous genre and injects some well-needed life and energy through a great theme and style variations.

If you’re going to make yet another match-3 game, this is the way to do it. Spandex Force takes several kinds of puzzle games and combines them in a coherent package with a great theme. In addition to the basic match-3 game, we get three other variations on the matching theme. Even the basic match-3 game is embellished with interesting fighting features that have a small amount of strategy. Add role-playing experience upgrades with new powers and abilities and a neat, cartoon feel and you have a winning title. The basic gameplay is still a puzzle game so if you don’t like those you’ll grow bored of Spandex Force even with the high-quality ancillary elements, but fans of the genre will find a polished and entertaining title worthy of your crime-fighting skills.