I've been known to dabble in the odd puzzle game, and city-building sims rate highly on my 'genre of preference' scale. So, for a puzzle and sim fan such as yours truly, a blend of the two should be a match made in heaven, right? Developer AT Games certainly thinks so; their new iOS game Puzzle Craft combines elements from both genres in a very happy union. However, once the honeymoon period is over, will the clever pairing make for a cosy, long term relationship... or is it destined for Splitsville?
The game was tested on an iPad, where it proved very responsive to every swipe and tap. No frustrations or issues with the controls whatsoever. Following a basic tutorial, you are left to your own devices to turn your humble patch of pristine wilderness into a thriving town. Puzzle Craft is not complicated to play, and it doesn't take too long to learn the ropes. Having said that, an onboard manual would have been handy, since you have to figure some things out for yourself.
The main screen is a semi-animated map depicting your fledgling settlement; this is where you'll spend time placing buildings, collecting manufactured goods and taxes, as well as accessing the game's menus and puzzle component (depicted as a farm and mine on the map). As well as erecting and upgrading buildings, you can also hire skilled workers to provide benefits such as improved productivity.
There's an appealing, cartoonish look to the game, with clean lines and simple shading. In the audio department we have basic incidental sound effects and a rustic ditty playing in the background. Not memorable, but guaranteed not to offend anyone sitting next to you on the train, or in the waiting room.
Of course, building a town from the ground up requires revenue and resources, and this is where the puzzle element kicks in. Essentially a 'match 3' game, you trace a line connecting three or more identical items to add them to your pool of resources - and it doesn't have to be a straight line, either. From the farm you can collect various plant and livestock materials, and the mine is your source of mineral resources, such as rock, iron and dirt.
It's fairly straightforward at first, but challenges are introduced later in the game, encouraging you to play more strategically. For instance, mining a long chain of rocks with a single swipe may seem like a good idea at first, but a few levels into the game the introduction of explosive gas pockets requires a more judicious approach. It keeps you on your toes, and ensures the game doesn't become stale.
I liked the fact that there is no countdown timer, which makes this the most laid back match three game since Bejeweled's Zen mode. There is a restriction on the number of moves you can make, but you can buy more with goods or money.
Speaking of money, unless you're prepared to spend real coinage on game cash, a five minute fix is about all you'll get until it's time to collect the taxes again... some two hours later. I'm sure there are gamers out there with limited patience and deep pockets, but I personally find the whole 'freemium' concept distasteful.
Puzzle Craft's good points far outweigh the negatives, however; it's a cheap download, much thought and creativity has gone into its design, and it manages to balance addictive, uncomplicated gameplay with depth, charm, and longevity. If puzzle and sim games spin your wheels, you'll get plenty of mileage out of this one.