Review: Dungeon Hearts10 Apr 2013 0
If I were in a traveling quartet of fantasy heroes--fighter, ranger, mage and the like--I might say to my companions, apropos of nothing, just questing through the Plains of Sorrow in our usual manner, "Hey, you know what? This whole fellowship thing we have going is a lot like being in a good band. We each have our respective weapons, our 'instruments' if you will, and it's the timing we share, our collective sense of rhythm, that makes us uniquely suited to weave deadly music together." And I imagine Thulgart, the warrior, would say to me, "We kill. No music. Stupid," followed by Blayne, the mage. "God you're such a healer. That was the most healer-y thing I've ever heard." Diana, the ranger, would just shake her head and show me a quick game of Dungeon Hearts.
Dungeon Hearts is an RPG-flavored match-game hybrid that, heck, sure does look like it should be a rhythm game. Like, really. It has colorful tap-able nubbins that move in a wave across the screen from right to left, and catchy J-pop you'll likely find yourself keeping a beat to, even though doing so has no real bearing on the game.
Because past that glam exterior, Dungeon Hearts is a match-three job, through and through. You're guiding four fantasy archetypes--warrior, mage, healer, and archer, associated with red, yellow, blue, and green symbols, respectively--through a series of fights and, eventually, a showdown with a Big Bad responsible for doing all sorts of naughty things with spirits and such. Matching three symbols of a color, let's say three reds for the warrior, will create a diamond-shaped piece (a "striker") which you can then tap again and, lo and hold, the warrior attacks.
You can also drag and move those strikers around before you activate them, and before their natural scroll towards oblivion at the left side of the screen (rhythm game!) wastes all that match-threeing you did.
"But why would I want to move my strikers?" you query.
Glad you asked, you. Because activating a striker will also destroy any enemy strikers in a column or row. If those skull-festooned nasties hit one of your four heroes standing vigil at the left of the screen, they get hurt. Plus, there are bonuses for activating strikers in rows or columns with symbols of the same color. Additionally, you can do bonus damage by chaining strikers of different colors together, or by using three of the same color of striker. And, uh, also, uhm, on top of all that there are hexes.
"What are hexes?"
Bastards, mostly. More specifically, they're fairly typical fantasy-RPG status effects that, if they reach the end of a channel, can do things like poisoning or blinding your heroes, slowly draining their health or making their attacks occasionally miss. Which, hey, wouldn't be all that bad if you weren't also dealing with those square hero symbols you're not allowed to move, or the gray symbols clogging up the lanes, or the enemy strikers that need to be hit twice in order to be destroyed, or the enemy strikers you're not allowed to move, or the enemy strikers you're not allowed to move and take two hits in order to be destroyed, or deciding if you should use any of your heroes' unique special powers or, and then, but also there's...
"That sure sounds like a bunch of stuff to-"
GLAD YOU ASKED. And yes. Yes it is.
You see, when Dungeon Hearts really hits its not-actually-a-rhythm-game-but-somehow-close-to-one groove, it's an excellent attack-style variant on match-three gaming. You're looking for combos, moving useless icons out of the way, defending against enemy attacks with the sheer power of your ability to match threes, and, woah, what's this, even after you win a fight you're still matching shit because you even have to level up your characters with some round's end matchin', and if you can't line up those XP stars you're borked, chump. Whew. (Soak that last bit in, because it's actually brilliant.)
But Dungeon Hearts gets tough, quick. (Maybe too tough, as evidenced by the recent patching-in of an easy mode.) It's one thing to present players with a difficult challenge they can comprehend. Match these things while also blowing up these bad things with your matching. Gotcha. But what about a nigh-insurmountable challenge they can only hope to defeat by throwing their comprehension out and rolling with semi-random swipes? The tougher Dungeon Hearts gets, the less useful all those aforementioned combos and bonuses become. Quick strategizing turns into a mad dash to match everything and destroy anything as soon as it pops up. Forget elegance--win by attrition. Over time, Dungeon Hearts loses its click moments, the times where planning, speed, skill and luck come together. It's like Tetris, without the long straight block. Challenging, yes. Fun, for a while. But the rhythm's off just so.