Saturday, June 19, 2010

Inner Quest Review

Inner Quest, developed and published by South Winds Games.
The Good: Mandatory matching locations, bonuses for speed, helpful power-ups for a cost, varied map layouts, can actually lose, multiplatform
The Not So Good: No true genre innovations, imprecise selection scheme, multiplier decays very quickly, no online high score list
What say you? An acceptable, but hardly ground-breaking, match-3 puzzle game: 5/8

Match-3! For those of you who weren’t scared off by that opening statement, welcome! Casual puzzle games have taken the PC by storm, cropping up across download portals across the Internet. But how do we know which are quality titles, and which are cheap derivatives? Lucky for you, Out of Eight is here to sift through as many match-3 games I can stand, which is approximately “two.” I already did the disastrously spelled Simplz: Zoo earlier this year (from the same developer, incidentally), so Inner Quest satisfies my yearly quota! Huzzah! Let’s see how/if/when/where/who/what Inner Quest improves upon the canon of match-3 puzzle games.

Inner Quest features sufficient graphics and sound design for a puzzle game. The colors are distinctive, making for easy matches thanks to the use of varied hues and shapes to differentiate between the numerous components. Squares that require matches are highlighted in a subtle, but not too subtle, manner. The backgrounds are nice and not distracting. The special effects are subtle but effective. The game plays at a low resolution, but this is a genre meant to be played in windowed mode. The music is just fine and fits the genre well. Inner Quest evokes no terrible feelings of inadequacy, so it passes the minimum requirements for presentation.

Inner Quest is a match-3 game, in which you make matches of three. It’s in the title, people! The game features both arcade (timed) and relaxed (for wimps) modes of play across one hundred different map layouts. You can actually lose in the arcade mode if you run out of time (and I have), although you can continue through the 100 levels with 1/8 of the points. There is no online high score list (just one for that computer), but at least Inner Quest is available for both evil and hippie operating systems.

Inner Quest elevates the classic match-3 gameplay a bit higher by offering more goal-oriented objectives. You are required to make matches on shaded squares before time expires, a tough task on exotic layouts with objectives that are located in the corners. Making matches more quickly increases your multiplier, although it decays rather fast, decreasing its effectiveness. Time is very important in Inner Quest: you must focus on clearing the special tiles quickly, or you will lose the game. The time limit is an effective tool in making the game stressful and challenging. Inner Quest includes some classic match-3 ingredients like locked tiles that can’t be moved and special tiles that cause regional explosions. Eventually, potions can be purchased for a score cost that can attack specific cells, guide your match-making ability, or restart a level with no penalty. I like the use of wagering your score on things that may or may not assist you in the future.

If you are quick enough, you can make multiple matches at once. I hate having to wait for the current string of matches to end before making another one in an unrelated portion of the map, and luckily Inner Quest removes this restriction. Unfortunately, Inner Quest makes it tough to see which tile (if any) is currently selected, as it uses the same indication (bouncing) for a selected tile as the one that is currently under the mouse pointed. You can imagine the confusion that ensues, and the inefficient nature of the selection mechanics really hinders the time-based gameplay. This is one of the few match-3 puzzle games that’s actually challenging, thanks to the layouts and time limit, so those looking for a tough trial will be pleased.

Inner Quest is an average match-3 puzzle game, and in a crowded genre, you must offer something unique, which this title does not. I do like the varied map designs and clearing requirements, which elevates it beyond simple matching anywhere on the board. The pace of the game is quick, with both a time limit and multipliers to maximize your score. The ability to fail is unique as well; most games just let you play on forever, but Inner Quest actually requires you to try. You can’t compare your ability against others online, though. The rest of the game is very typical of the genre: explosions for matching specific tiles and power-ups. The controls should be better: I commonly click on the wrong tile or think something is selected when it is not. In a game where speed is of paramount importance, Inner Quest fails. In the end, there is nothing wrong with Inner Quest, but nothing new about it. Fans of the genre will enjoy Inner Quest, but those not obsessed with match-3 games will pass over this title as just another game.