Review: You Must Build A Boat08 Jun 2015 0
10000000 is notable around here for almost certainly being the fastest-paced game ever reviewed in these pages. 10000000 took elements from RPGs, match-3 puzzlers, and infinite runners and ground them up in a mortar, and then fidgetingly insisted that you snort the product through a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill. 10000000 was frenetic, but it was simultaneously cerebral and demanded careful planning, like a psychotic German bureaucrat.
Remarkably, You Must Build A Boat doesn't just replicate that delicate balance of gameplay elements, it refines it all into an even more potent blend. So potent, in fact, I'm pretty sure I couldn't handle a second sequel.
Before I get any deeper into this, I should tell you that since 10000000 came out, creator Luca Redwood and I have semi-regularly been down the pub, occasionally sat in front of Twilight Struggle where he usually plays as the Americans (and loses). If you're one of those people who insist that game critics be hermetically sealed away from game developers a la the cryogenic prison in Demolition Man, then this review will offend your delicate sensibilities. I'm pretty sure I'd be entirely capable of telling you that You Must Build A Boat is crap if it were -- luckily for all us it seems objectively true that it isn't.
You Must Build A Boat is an all-around improvement on 10000000 -- and not just for gaming website copy editors. The core gameplay has changed very little: you're still an infinite-running man solving match-3 puzzles to defeat the monsters who want to push him off the left side of the screen and end his run. What made 10000000 different (and what continues to set You Must Build A Boat apart) is that the fast pace of the puzzling is accompanied by a wicked layer of tactical gameplay. Some monsters are invulnerable to certain kinds of attacks, forcing you to change up your matching strategy. The titular boat that you're building between runs requires certain resources to upgrade, which you have to collect from the game board -- though those matches will do nothing to hurt the monsters. There's a lot to keep track of and, to use a discredited metaphor, YMBAB requires the continuous use of both sides of your brain.
A number of the new gameplay enhancements are aimed at upping the game's complexity. For me, at least, Redwood seems to have found the upper limit of human attention-splitting. I am watching the board and trying to locate crate matches in the hopes of landing a freeze spell to counter a fire demon. I am watching the representation of the dungeon at the top of the screen, mindful of the decreasing health of the monster I'm fighting and planning for the next monster who's just appeared on screen. Suddenly, a flying trap appears, which means I need to make a specific match to defeat it before it freezes me solid and leaves me at the mercy of the beasts. You Must Build A Boat might look like a casual game, but its hunger for your focus is anything but casual. This is not a game that you can play on the couch and convincingly claim to your partner that you are definitely paying attention to The Affair on Sky Atlantic right now.
Redwood doesn't throw you in at the deep end. The game's complexity crescendos at a manageable pace, as each new level unlocks a new wrinkle on the game mechanics you've learned. It's probably not as smooth an ascent as Redwood intended, as I found the game to have a substantial difficulty spike around the third stage, but playing YMBAB never feels like a grind -- the basic matching-and-running gameplay is just too enjoyable, and the game is too light-hearted to ever get angry at.
When you're defeated at the end of a run, the game invariably congratulates you with mawkish enthusiasm. You win! exclaims a splash screen in giant-point font. It's the sort of praise that feels condescending when a mobile game tutorial does it, but YMBAB is always poking fun at itself, not you. One of the major points of discussion around 10000000 was how ugly the game was, how rudimentary the monster art was. YMBAB doesn't shy away from the previous game's art and makes a point of immersing you in it further -- now the ridiculous pixel monsters are cast as your friends aboard the ship, like George Lucas turning the Jedi Council into Gungans. One of the later levels takes place in an art gallery where 10000000's cast of characters drolly appear in portraits alongside Warhols and da Vincis.
Likewise, the You win! screen points out a commonplace of gaming in 2015: you are on an unswerving tramline to victory, the only question is how long it will take you to get there. The ride in You Must Build A Boat is varied and interesting if nothing else. Another of Redwood's enhancements is the addition of semi-random variables injected into each dungeon run (Martial dungeons buff physical attacks and devalue magic, Wanderer dungeons might feature a guest appearance from a previous level's monster) which add quite a lot of gameplay diversity to each session.
You Must Build A Boat is such a rare combination of frenetic speed and methodical planning that its closest relative might be