PEGBRJE: Monster Match and The Nine Lives of Nim: Fortune’s Fool
Monster Match is a Match-3 defense-flavoured game made by Axol Studio, the indie studio out of Missouri that brought us the title Blasting Agent back a few pages ago. In this pixelated title, players are a Lich who has existed for years, accumulating wealth and power now needing to defend their layer from ambitious (yet foolish) adventurers.
The core idea of Monster Match revolves around creating minions to stop the marching heroes as they move through the different realms towards the Lich’s layer. To do so, players will take control of a large board covered in three different minions and are required to match them together. Every match fills the vials at the top, and upon gathering enough of their essence a minion is created in the path of the hero to try to stop them. Matching multiple minions at the same time will give bonuses to the amount of essence collected, while matching the same minion twice in the same ‘turn’ will give a special potion vial on the board. If three of these spell potions are brought together, they give the player the ability to cast one of three spells that will take out large portions of the board for accelerated essence collection.
What Monster Match alters appears small, yet has massive implications on the title; specifically, the fact that matches don’t need to work in order to be implemented. In ‘standard’ — at least, the more familiar formula — Match-3 titles, switching two tiles that don’t create a match will cause them to reverse. Instead, Monster Match allows players to swap tiles with no consequence, meaning that players can set up massive combos if they have the patience, or maneuver pieces across the board to finish off certain minions. This also means that there is no hint system, for technically there is always a match possible. It honestly took a bit to get used to, but it felt fantastic to set up massive 3x multipliers thanks to being able to shift a few pieces around prior. Thing is, there’s a reason for this system — the player is on the clock.
Those heroes that are trying to capture the Lich’s wealth? They are seemingly infinite in number and won’t stop until they acquire the gold. The minions are a roadblock to slow down their progress indicated at the top right, and will move forward if their are no minions stopping them. If a hero reaches the end of the zone, the board is wiped and all remaining essence is used to create a barrier to give players some breathing room and familiarize themselves with the new minion tiles on the board. This means that if players are unsuccessful in getting matches, that zone will be over extremely quickly and the barrier that should help will do essentially nothing. There’s also the aspect that the board doesn’t refill constantly upon getting matches; at the bottom, there’s another meter that slowly fills over time. Once that meter fills, all of the tiles fall from the top to fill in the gaps below to allow for more matches. This is an attempt to ensure that players don’t get too far ahead and somehow bank 5–10 minions and effectively stalemate the game. There is a single exception in the sides of the board, as if an entire column is emptied the board shifts to the right and fills in that column immediately.
It’s not a complete overhaul of the system, but Monster Match alters just enough of the Match-3 formula to give something refreshing and exciting while still holding on to the core experience of solving coordination puzzles to match tiles. It encourages speed while discouraging perfection, knowing that players will never win if they spend too long worry about getting that sweet perfect triple match. Combined with a fun and simple aesthetic that could easily go anywhere, and players will get to enjoy the hour or two that they are able to stave off the heroes. If you enjoyed Gunhouse from earlier and want more fast-paced Match-3 titles, this is definitely one to try out.
The Nine Lives of Nim: Fortune’s Fool is an expansive visual novel made by skybeargames, an indie couple out of New Zealand that create many styles of games. In this title, players will be following the titled Nim, a cat spirit who is tasked with finding the Prince of Cats within the human world. The only problem? She needs to live in the human world, rather than just survive it. How will she blend with the locals while looking for one that may have morphed their visual appearance?
While first appearing as a visual novel, The Nine Lives of Nim sneakily hides the fact that it is more RPG than most. Nim needs to survive in this fictional world of Vanora, which means paying a weekly rent, taking courses and working odd jobs. These jobs and courses give stat increases to many different styles of abilities, which can then be used to ensure that the performance at the job is done to the fullest. There’s even events that can occur on the job or at school to possible give even more stats or monetary value. Two of these activities can be done per day, with jobs acquiring ducats and courses requiring ducats to attend. Afterwards, players are able to wander a bit to which special events can occur before the evening begins, which enables players to visit a specific location in the city to assist with their search for the Prince of Cats. Upon completion of this location, the day ends and a new one begins to continue the cycle again. It’s quite ingenius honestly, where players become more invested in their journey as they wish to customize their iteration of Nim to fit the search, which almost took a backseat for me when I was exploring.
As with visual novels, the story and characters are what many focus their attention on, and The Nine Lives of Nim brings a fantastic twist for their character creation: nearly everyone is an homage or directly representative of Shakespearean figures. On her adventures, Nim meets many characters that have all seemingly made their way into Vanora, which is an obvious nod to the famous setting of Verona. There is a fight between Feste and Touchstone on who is the better fool, an appearance from Horatio and Ophelia (who has survived Hamlet somehow) and an angry mage with a captive spirit. It’s almost mystical how fun the interpretation is, as all of these characters will interact with Nim for various reasons, drawing the player into side quests to be fulfilled during the down time. Decisions made by Nim will effect how the characters view her, and also her temperament — the psychology system of the olden times that would determine personality. This ties more into the RPG system, but also will draw certain types of characters to Nim for assistance and influence how the story plays out.
At first glance, The Nine Lives of Nim: Fortune’s Fool appears like a simple visual novel, only to unravel into a wonderfully intricate rpg visual novel hybrid. The character drawing style may take some time to get used to, as it seemingly matches the gorgeous backdrops while also feeling out of place, yet over time it begins to blend in with the rest to create a cohesive aesthetic. It even contains voice acting for those wishing for some audio cues which is a nice boon. It doesn’t take too long, but it creates a fun and open-ended adventure for the player to discover what they want out of this life, and whether or not to return to their original one. If you have a few hours, this is definitely a visual novel worth diving in to if you’re feeling dramatic.
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