Pop quiz: What do ghosts, talking owls and sunny seaside getaways have in common? They’re all part of Pakoombo, a catchy new tropical match-three puzzler set to a Calypso beat. While not particularly groundbreaking, and saddled with several inherent design flaws, it’s nonetheless a respectable attempt to jazz up an overpopulated genre.
Play for the nicely animated presentation and host of minor game enhancements. Still, don’t expect the title’s repetitive action and formulaic layout to provide more than a few passing highlights.
Here, you’ll play as young lass Cathy and her cartoon siblings. Your goal: Save your father’s oceanfront resort from Mr. Lyar’s devious designs, and thwart the shady character from selling your home. Naturally, the story quickly takes several twists with the introduction of more characters, a long-lost treasure and additional areas of the map you can explore beyond the thatch-roofed dwelling.
Hence the further you progress by completing tasks – assigned by chatty parrots, jovial gardeners, spooky spirits and others with whom you must converse to advance – the more there is to see and do. In short, while Quick Play and Boss Battle game options are available, Story Mode’s plot-driven campaign, which sees you exploring an island’s worth of exotic locales, proves the title’s top draw.
Basically, the action works by having you first select a specific map location to investigate. Once there, you’ll be assigned quests by a supporting character, who also contributes to the story by way of brief dialogue sequences. Meeting these objectives requires visiting attractively-animated flower patches, subterranean areas, guest rooms and more, where you’ll play a round of Pakoombo, supposedly the heroes’ favorite leisure activity. The basic rules of which, of course, should be instantly familiar to veteran keyboard jocks.
Each stage essentially consists of a grid of tiles, with every square containing a different item, i.e. popsicles, stars, umbrellas, etc. By swapping two tiles, you’ll attempt to create horizontal or vertical groups of three or more similar objects. Do so, and they disappear from play, with higher-situated tiles falling down to fill in the gaps, possibly creating opportunities for chained sequences of matches, a.k.a. combos.
As expected, there’s a catch. Some stages demand you collect X many # of specific quest items such as bananas, keys, mushrooms, flowers and so forth. Others pit you head-to-head against “boss” characters in battles where you attempt to reduce their charm flame counter (or health, if you will) to zero by matching colored skulls. In the latter case, levels go from being rather relaxed affairs to more strategic challenges, where you’ll have to plan several steps ahead.
Not only do these welcome scenarios add depth and excitement by demanding you feint, strike and actively think several steps ahead to counter intelligent opponents. (Say, by blocking them from collecting skulls by removing strategically-placed titles or making matches of four or more items to earn yourself an extra turn, for example.) They also make much better use of the game’s shockingly broad selection of power-ups.
To wit, before playing any level, you’re allowed to select a specific hero, every one of which has a specific gift. For instance, Cathy’s older sibling Stewart can cause opponents’ to lose several turns, while baby bro Leo casts a net that removes all tiles in a single column and row, carving a “+” shaped swath of destruction.
Other selectable gifts can also be obtained by spending coins you’ve collected at the shop. (Think items that bestow healing bonuses, eliminate all tiles of a single type or destroy large sections of squares in a single go.) Predictably, powers take several turns to recharge, helping ensure overall game balancing doesn’t go askew.
The big problem here being less conceptually related than tied to actual execution, considering the huge amount of backtracking and repetition required of players. Fresh gifts and acquaintances do take the edge off somewhat by occasionally add new spins on the action.
But by and large, most scenarios – and believe us, there are dozens of carbon copy tile-swapping segments featured – play out almost identically throughout the course of the adventure. Adding salt to the wound, you’re often forced to revisit locales multiple times over to collect an increasing number of quest objects, making these tasks feel more like filler than natural plot advancements.
Catchy at first, a limited soundtrack tends to grate as well, especially the prerecorded voice which yells “Pakoombo!” every five seconds. About an hour in, occasional new twists notwithstanding, you’ll be ready to “Pakoombo!” the living daylights out of your PC. A pity this, given the game’s otherwise far-reaching vision.
Had more time been spent polishing the overall package, Pakoombo might’ve proved a long-term keeper, rather than just a quirky diversion you’ll likely play and admire for but a short while before moving on to other, more rewarding pursuits.