The mobile gaming market isn’t exactly in dire need of puzzle games, especially those of the tile-matching variety. Still, they keep on coming in all shapes and sizes, many of which simply get swept under the rug. Those that go out of their way to be different, however, usually attract a small crowd, especially if they happen to be championing a new take on the ageing sub-genre.
Though not entirely unique by any means, Gameloft’s Dungeon Gems is a welcome addition to the mass of mobile and tablet puzzlers. Not only is its gameplay familiar and addictive, it also has plenty of depth many of its competitors lack. This substance is imbued with Dungeon Gems’ role-playing mechanics. Choosing from one of three base characters, you set off on a grand adventure, trawling dungeons for gold and glory in an attempt to repel an army of dragons.
Though you can play the game like a regular tile-matching puzzler, it won’t get you far. Within the first hour of play you’ll eventually reach a point where the difficulty starts to ramp, forcing you to adjust and enhance your company of heroes. Each has its own combat statistics and experience guage which can be filled by synthesizing other heroes. It sounds risky at first but as you progress more and more heroes (many of them spares) will flood your inventory.
Dungeons are always split into multiple tiers, each one with its own encounter. These battles are fought in the way one might expect, by matching tiles on a grid and dealing to on-screen baddies. The amount dealt depends on a number of things including the characters’ base stats as well as which of the five elements they are aligned to. It’s simple rock, paper, scissors stuff with fire beating earth, earth beating water, and water beating fire. The two other elements, light and dark, simple counter one another, each clash adding a tactical dimension to fights.
Though old, it’s still a fun system and one that Dungeon Gems compliments with a suite of hero-specific abilities. These range from burst damage and instant healing to tile swaps and elemental buffs, each sapping away at a player’s AP. Longevity comes through wanting to upgrade your party members. There’s also a certain allure in wanting to see which ones you unlock throughout your journey; each dungeon is like opening a booster pack of trading cards.
Grinding is a pressing issue however. Some hours into Dungeon Gems and you’ll start to feel the brake being applied, the price of levelling heroes going up and up as you reach the cap. This sluggishness will soon start to impact your enjoyment of the core gameplay itself as you see the rewards becoming less and less worthwhile.
Still, compared to similar games, it’s definitely comes out on top. The 3D visuals are impressive, as is the artwork that accompanies each and every hero. These are both used to full effect while in-game, each battle adopting a traditional Japanese role-playing style ala Dragon Quest. Other features, such as the clan and daily quest systems add yet even more depth for those who dig beneath the surface.
Available now for free, Dungeon Gems is certainly worth a punt if you’re looking for a puzzler that isn’t just another aimless timesink. There’s some true substance to be found here though whether you can endure the grind will ultimately determine how much you enjoy it.