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Six Match review

Six Match review

This game is weird. Fun, but weird.

I've reached a high score that I don't think I can, or want to beat, and I don't think I want to play the game again, even though I enjoyed it while I did. I'm also very confused about others' experiences. I have only played about 5 games, and reached a score of 9000+ twice.

I think this stems from me treating it as something other than what it was designed to be. Maybe I'm taking too seriously, and misinterpreting the intentions behind its design. Maybe both the designer and other players see it in another light.

It starts with the help button. On my first game, I got stuck, so I pressed it. Cool, that it shows me a move that I haven't thought of, and I got to learn a new maneuver. I can now look for this pattern of gems and know that I can sort it. (In time I'll learn of more patterns).

Then I learned (here and in conversations) that if I get stuck, it gives a lifesaver in the form of a bomb. And if all helps run out, it doesn't even tell me if I get stuck.

So, I should never click the help button. I should only use it as a quick indicator if there's a valid move.

The process of looking for match is the most fun part of the game - it's why I enjoyed playing it. But then it adds a bunch of things that seem partly superfluous (more on that at the end) and some of them MEAN.

I think the help button is there to be your friend, to get you unstuck, but it ends up being evil. When I want to take a break, how am I supposed to go back to the home screen? On my Android phone, I need to swipe down from the top of the screen. Then I need to press the home button that appears OVER the help button. The swipe can trigger an accidental move if I'm not careful. And if I'm too slow to press the home button, it can disappear and then I'm pressing HELP instead. EVIL. This game is trying to trip you up, if you're trying to play seriously. But maybe it's just trying to help and not realizing how cruel it ends up being...?

Now that I knew not to play I played 2 or 3 more games, and in the last of those I managed to reach a high score of 9800+. I was very lucky not to reach too many dead ends. And then I made a mistake and died by miscalculating and trying to make 7 moves instead of 6. I forgot to treat the screen as sacred and carefully pause after entering each move to see if I didn't accidentally shift the board in a way I haven't considered.

When this comes at such a point, everything in the game seems there to trip you up, rather than to be an interesting puzzle to solve. It could have stopped me from making the last move that killed me, and instead force me to press the HELP button. But, no, it let me keep going. Was it intentional? Requiring precise moves and forethought from those who chase a high score? Or was missing that feature to keep the game simple? Casual? Not thinking anyone would want to reach that far in the game?

This depressed me for a while, thinking I wouldn't want to play again. I'm not likely to reach that 9800, or 10000, again. (It also didn't help that the game didn't submit my score to the leaderboards.) A day later, I decided to start another game, which I quickly scrapped because I learned that this gives it another chance to submit the high score. That worked. Yay. So I started another game. In this one, I got to 10k, and kept going, to 12k. The game was much less challenging than the last. It didn't present me with many 1-move-available situations - some of them caused me to stare at the screen for minutes, and taking long breaks.

With all this in mind, it seems to me that the game is less about skill, and much more about luck, but most of all perseverance and patience. You need to be VERY careful about not making any wrong moves, and by that I don't just mean logical mistakes where your mind slips, but also wrong inputs on the screen, wrong swipes. The game itself is a deathtrap trying to catch you. It's not a nice feeling.

Maybe there's nothing different in how I approach the game, and I was just especially lucky to reach that high a score. Twice. I don't know. I don't play games of this type, and in the few games that I do like (Threes, Drop-7), I never got very far. If it is about luck, then the appeal of the game sort of diminishes. I have to play a lot to reach the point where there's enough things on the board to make the puzzle of finding the next move interesting.

Maybe an interesting mode of the game would start you off with all of those mechanisms introduced, or a mode where it's all about 1-turn puzzles that involve tricky moves. (But that can get old quick, and time-consuming because you have to learn a new board each time).

Here are some weird design decisions that I don't understand:

The poker hands

According to a blog post by the developer, Aaron Steed, this seems inspired by Bejewelled 3. I'm not sure why it's there. When the game starts, the board is full of jewels all around, and several solutions are 6 moves away. You can kind of aim to collect sets of matches, and with any leftover moves, try to set things up for the next matches. This quickly goes away. You are soon left with only 1 or 2 moves available, and the choice between them is not "which would help me make a set", but "which will help me survive the next move"? Is this another way to lure you into making wrong moves? The way to reach a high score is by surviving long enough, not by making a handful of extra points on a series of matches that may cost you the game.

The "endgame"

Every once in a while, a green "stamper" block is introduced. Moving it moves the whole row/column, and wraps it around. It also leaves behind it a green floor. If you match on that floor, you get an extra point.

What is that extra point for? As I mentioned before, I think a high score is gained mainly by surviving, not by getting more points. But those green floors quickly fill the screen, so they give you points without thinking about it too much. (Not that you can think about it. With only 6 moves there's literally no time)

Another aspect of the stampers is that they never go away. No bomb or super-bomb destroys them. The help button, when there's no moves left, may spawn a bomb over it, but you're not supposed to ever press it, so that's not an option. So the bomb fills up with stampers (and green floor. Green everywhere). You're faced with less and less available jewels to match against, and the game slowly comes to a crawl. You're dependent on lucky drops of new jewels from the sky and try to make the most out of them, never straying too far away.

This is how the endgame feels, and it's tense and exciting for a while, but then it's just stressful and exhausting, especially since I didn't feel like I was doing anything particularly clever or rewarding. I was just being lucky, and careful. And I certainly didn't want to go through that again.

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