Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ancient Quest of Saqqarah Review

Ancient Quest of Saqqarah, developed and published by Codeminion.
The Good: Many variations on the basic match-three mechanic, lots of puzzles with diverse layouts, don’t need to complete a game type to unlock the next, good presentation for the genre, subtle hint system
The Not So Good: Not a fan of the bonus rounds
What say you? Variety highlights this impressive match-three puzzle game: 7/8

We all know the match-three game: move stuff around and get adjoining webs, superheroes, gems, more gems, records, blocks, or music. Blah blah blah. Most of the titles in the genre are one-note offerings with repetitive gameplay that will surely bore you to tears within minutes. But wait! Codeminion returns with their “major puzzle game” entitled Ancient Quest of Saqqarah, or Saqqarah for short (wonder if he got picked on as a child for that crazy name?). All right, Ancient Quest of Saqqarah, do your best to take me out of my match-three-induced slumber.

For a match-three puzzle game, Ancient Quest of Saqqarah offers up an above-average presentation. While the game is in 2-D, I certainly don’t have a problem with that as long as the game looks decent, which Saqqarah certainly does. The game is full of effects from making matches and a straightforward interface that makes navigating the game easy as pie (pumpkin is my favorite). The colors are distinct and the completed sections of each puzzle are clearly marked in two ways: by highlighting the path and the background, Saqqarah makes sure you know where you need to make matches next. Even better than the graphics is the sound. Ancient Quest of Saqqarah comes with fitting Egyptian background music and some great effects, such as when tiles hit the ground and excited reactions when you make impressively large matches. The voice acting is a bit over the top, but that’s nothing to complain about. Overall, the presentation of Ancient Quest of Saqqarah is well-done.

While Ancient Quest of Saqqarah (I think that's the last time I'm going to use the full name...unless the review looks short) is, at its heart, a run-of-the-mill match-three puzzle game, the title introduces a level of unmatched variety that makes it stand out. Your goal in each puzzle is to make a match along each path on the board, and since the boards have some interesting arrangements, this is an interesting task beyond a simple high score or clear the board objective. There are seven different flavors of matching in Saqqarah, each of which has 24 unique layouts for each of the three difficulty levels: that's 504 puzzles total (I did the math).

So, what are the seven varieties? “Swap” is the standard move-adjacent-gems mode that we've seen before. “Logic” mode gives you no new gems and you must switch existing pieces to make matches in each of the shapes of the game: I like it. “Pop” mode requires the least amount of thinking, as you just need to click on a match and it disappears: no moving required. It's odd, then, that “pop” is one of the last ones to unlock, since it seems more appropriate for beginners. “Select” requires you to trace a path over an existing match: an advanced version of “pop.” “Paths” requires you to move gems along a clear path to an open spot and new ones spawn if you don't make a match; this is one of the more difficult offerings that requires a lot of planning. Thankfully, you are shown the new gems that will spawn in the next turn, and that makes planning easier. “Rotate” makes you click on shapes to rotate (surprise!) the gems around them to make matches. And, finally, “in hand” swaps a given tile to make matches, sort of like Tetris. The sheer amount of variety in Saqqarah is awesome and the different modes prevent the game from getting repetitive, as a lot of puzzles games tend to do.

Thankfully, you don't need to complete all 52 levels in a series to unlock the next (or even 24 at the easiest difficulty level): just four will do it. That means you won't be spending much time at all on the puzzle types you hate before you can move on to the next. What a great feature. My only complaint about Saqqarah is the bonus rounds: I don't like them. It involves searching for hieroglyphs and I think it's too different from the base gameplay and does not flow well with the remainder of the title. Of course, if Saqqarah did not feature some change of pace, I'd probably complain about that, too. You can never win!

How many ways can you do a match-three game? Apparently more than I thought, and Saqqarah packs them all in to one game. This game features the most variety of any matching game I can remember, with seven distinct versions of the classic mechanic to choose from. The 504 puzzles aren't simply repeats of the previous level with a slightly more difficult goal: they are genuinely different. The layouts are also varied, and the objective of matching matches all across the board is more advanced than simply clearing the level of getting a minimum score. The presentation is top-notch, thanks to memorable sound and pleasing graphics. This, my friends, is how you do a match-three puzzle game. If you have any interest in the genre, then Ancient Quest of Saqqarah should be at the top of your list.