So much for modern medicine. The Village Mage – Spellbinder is a multitasking match-3 and time management hybrid that has you whipping up magic potions to cure everyone in the village. With all the talk about health care reform, it must be nice to live in a world where everything can be cured with dandelions and mushrooms!
The story is barely there, but sets up the theme. Your receive your alchemists degree, and hope to open up your own alchemists’ s academy someday, so you head home and quickly convert your parent’s house into a shop. Now you’re all ready to play.
At first glance, the game play is like many other time management games. Customers come in, and need to be served. You’ve got to be quick, or else they lose patience (and you lose cash). Once seated, you examine them with a magnifying glass, and figure out what potion they need. Making a potion involves selecting the right ingredients to start. Next it’s time to mix up the magic brew – that’s where the match-3 component comes in. You click on the cauldron, and you’re transported into the match 3 gaming field.
The controls take a bit of getting used to, but they’re not too tough once you figure it out. For the most part, the match-3 section is fairly typical. You swap adjacent gems to make matches of three or more of a kind, and try to earn enough of each resource in order to make a potion. There are a few power ups which you can earn as upgrades, but none of these has a big effect on the game dynamics.
In a new twist, after you’ve made a match, those tiles are turned into bubbles. You can still make matches with bubbles, but you can’t move them. These stay on the screen for a few seconds before fading away. While it takes a bit of getting used to, it allows you to make much larger combos then most match-3 games. You get a multiplier bonus for having many bubbles on the screen at once.
It’s actually more complicated then I’ve described, because you need to switch between tasks constantly as you play. Customers continually arrive, and you must answer the door swiftly in order to serve them. Each time you need to make a new type of potion, you need to leave the match-3 field, add new ingredients, and start another field again. Potions expire quickly, so you can’t really make them in advance.
Despite all this frantic multitasking, the pace is fairly slow, and the game isn’t very difficult. In the game’s favor, the 2D cartoon graphics are nicely done, and include animations. The bubbles take a bit of getting used to, but once you do, you’ll enjoy being able to make larger combos thanks to the time delay. On the whole, the length is good, with good replay value if you aim for silver and gold awards.
However, there are a few flaws that make the game frustrating. For one thing, there is sometimes a lag when you switch between tasks. It can also be frustrating to switch back and forth between fields when you’re playing, and the game doesn’t allow you to plan in advance or to form a strategy. Instead, you must just react to the demands of the customers.
English is occasionally a problem, and the instructions can be vague, absent, or nonsensical. There are many examples of this. When quitting you are asked "Are you shure?" In regards to one machine, you are told, "…substitute any ingredient on the field with it( e all of the same kind on the…click to continue." Huh? In regards to the pets, nothing is really explained when they are introduced, other then the need to feed them. They supposedly work, but I couldn’t figure out what they do, other than sit there and eat. All of this makes the game more difficult to enjoy.
While not ground breaking, The Village Mage – Spellbinder does add a new twist to the genre in regards to the bubble concept, and does an okay job of blending match-3 and time management. For an indie game, made by a very small team, it has fairly good production values. However, it doesn’t offer the depth of a match-3 genre blending game like Puzzle Quest, and neither the time management or match-3 sections really stand out as strong enough to stand on their own. Still, it is slightly different and might appeal to people who like the medieval fantasy theme.