Battle Gems Review: iOS Puzzle Game That Won't Make You Hate Yourself for Loving It
Mobile-based puzzle games get a bad wrap among many longtime gamers, and sometimes with good reason. As TotalBiscuit pointed out in a recent video, most mobile games aren't targeted toward 'hardcore' gamers, nor do they need us to succeed. Ouch.
This tension bubbles just beneath the surface, leaving most gamers still looking for a fun mobile game that's convenient, enjoyable, and doesn't make it feel like their taste is being actively compromised (if you've ever played Candy Crush Saga, you know that feeling).
Fellow Gamers, Prepare to Like This One
I've been playing Battle Gems, the latest game from Artix, for the better part of the week. It's addictive, fun, well-constructed; everything you want in a game you play intermittently all day and longer than you'd like to admit at night. But I still struggled to understand what made this game so feel different from all the other mobile games out there I've tried.
Today was when I realized, this one feels like it was made for us.
Battle Gems has a deceptively simple formula, with a delightful twist
It's a well-rounded puzzle game in all the ways that matter: easy to play (at least at first), nice to listen to, and decidedly lacking in the game breaking bugs that notoriously plauge mobile games. The real game changer here is that while Battle Gems will absolutely appeal to young and casual players, it leaves self-affirmed gamers feeling like they got more out of it than the average player.
Plenty of games nod to geek heritage (even DragonVale has some hilarious copy buried in the descriptions), but Battle Gems takes it a step further, permeating the entire game with odes to icons and inside jokes only gamers will fully grasp.
Okay, fine, Grumpy Cat is not a gaming icon. But it was my favorite Battle Gems pet.
Almost every single battle and encounter is wrapped in subtle or not-at-all subtle nods to gaming and geek culture icons.
So far I've counted references to: Lord of the Rings, Myst, Assassin's Creed, Skyrim (two times), Miley Cyrus and Tinkerbell (at the same time), God of War, Star Wars, Stephen King's The Dark Tower, The Walking Dead, Doge, Direwolves, and Oculus Rift - in addition to tons of other references ranging from your average forum trolls to Norwegian explorer Leif Ericson.
Solid, Enjoyable Gameplay
Each battle encounter presents a familiar puzzle matching scenario, with different icons representing different attacks or heals. Blue for magic, red for physical, green for pet, and red for heal or poison. One of my only frustrations with Battle Gems is that I'd like to control when I heal vs. poison an enemy - being down to half your health and poisoning the enemy doesn't feel productive when your next potential heal combo is nowhere in sight.
As the game progresses, you encounter more complexities on the board: Critical squares, locked critical squares, boulders, immunities and more.
Your number of available battles are capped by "energy," which refills over time. You start with 15, and can up or eliminate energy caps via various upgrades. Personally, I found the energy cap helpful because it ensured I couldn't play nonstop. Usually by the time you run out, you've either had a bad run of quick losses or you've played a good long while; in either case, a break isn't a bad call.
You will encounter areas that require more waiting as you traverse the Battle Gems map, and I could certainly see eager players paying for upgrades to skip an 18 hour wait on the next part of the game. But overall, the gating doesn't negatively impact the enjoyment of the game - the devs struck a nice balance that keeps free to play free to enjoy, while still offering meaningful perks to players who pay for the app.
Parents and Kids will Love this Game (and so will Pretty Much Everyone Else)
Your grandma might not be keen on all the dragons, but I bet even she'd still give it a go for the bright graphics and laid back sound effects.
Like the recently released Lego Movie, Battle Gems scores big because it's accessible to everyone, but particularly enjoyable for each group in their own way. Kids will like the cartoon style that permeates Artix's other offerings like Adventure Quest Worlds, adult gamers will enjoy finding all the references, and all players will enjoy the quality of a game well made, soothing soundtrack, and deftly increasing overall difficulty based that's notable for a lack of majorly painful level grinds.
Where to get Your Paws on Battle Gems
Eager to battle the mighty Brutalcorn yourself? Battle Gems is free to play
Currently available on iOs: Download Battle Gems for iOS here
Coming soon on Android, Windows devices, and PC just as soon as its hooves can carry it.
Full Disclosure: I like the Artix team, but this review in no way reflects my feelings toward the company or the (admittedly awesome) people in it. It's a positive review because they've made one heck of a game, and - much like the time my college buddy opened a brewery - I'm immensely glad the product they made is a great one, because I'd likely be consuming it either way.
This review is based on the final development build of Battle Gems. We reserve the right to release additional reviews (and encourage our readers to leave their own reviews!) for retail versions of the game in order to better reflect real player experiences with products after release.