Devil Invasion is technically a hybrid of match-3 and role-playing games that owes its mechanics to Puzzle Quest. But in action, it’s one of the most nerve-searing experiences available on the iPhone. The game’s juxtaposition of familiar mechanics with a rare, player-grabbing intensity makes it a must-have for puzzle and action fans alike.

The premise is obvious. Devils are invading the earth, and you need to defend your castles from them. Creatures like wolves, fish-men, and stone golems slowly advance upon your territory from right to left, breaking down any obstacles in their way. There are usually two towers placed to buy you time before the devils reach your castle on the left edge. In a normal castle defense game, you’d set up defenses and flick the creatures away before they could cause too much damage. That’s where Devil Invasion makes its mark.

Devil Invasion

Instead of interacting directly with the creatures on the top of the screen, you match coins, icons, gold and stones on the bottom hex grid. Blue, green and red coins (called “magic stones”) disappear when three of like color fall in a row, adding to your mana. Wedge-shaped icons can be matched to deal damage to the leftmost devil, gold earns you money, and stones simply get in the way and have to be crushed. You can use mana to cast one of three spells that you equip. These range from elven archers raining down arrows (“Get wet!”) to a wizard casting blankets of flame (“Eat hot taste!”) to a dwarf sapper triggering explosives hidden in a tower (“Blow me, blow u!”), thus sacrificing the defensive structure but causing spectacular destruction.

Spells are a critical part of the game, but their catchphrases may be the best part. Botched translations, or demented jokes? You decide.

The game takes place across a map that looks vaguely like the United States. For the most part, you’ll wind up from grassy flatlands through desert and the icy peaks up north. At regular increments, you’ll find a battle. You occasionally pass an ominous dungeon that amounts to a boss fight—fearsome devil mages accompany the invading creatures, and they are much more powerful. If you can’t take them down on first try, you’re better off following the normal path and accumulating enough gold to purchase more and better spells. You will also level up along the way, presumably increasing your attack power, though the specific effect is unclear.

You eventually learn your favorite combinations of abilities and spells. Each spell uses a different pair of colored mana, and it’s important to equip spells that don’t overlap too much so that you can maximize usage of all three. While these kinds of decisions normally amount to perfectionist tweaking in strategy or role-playing games, they’re a necessity of life in Devil Invasion.

Devil Invasion

What truly distinguishes the game is its terrifying speed. Each battle seems to be populated and paced so that you won’t win until the devils are about to knock down your castle door. And in order to win, you will need to be matching coins and stones at a constant pace. Let your attention drift for more than two seconds and you’ve lost crucial ground; get confused for seven or eight seconds and you’ve likely cost yourself the battle. Devil Invasion may be the first match-3 game to truly exploit the iPhone’s touch controls. It would be impossible to play without the immediacy of quickly scanning the small screen, seeing a block in the corner, and flicking it into place with your finger.

A frequent complaint about match-3 hybrids is that the grid leaves too much up to chance—that tactical thinking is useless in the face of randomly generated grids. Somehow, Devil Invasion transcends such concerns. Its joy is in the flurry of falling stones and chimes of matched coins. Your failures are lapses in concentration or reflexes—yours, not the game’s. Conversely, those moments where you almost magically trigger a chain of matches, like a cascade of mana and arrows that save your castle from certain ruin, are breathtaking. These glorious triumphs are yours, and that’s the sentiment that Devil Invasion embraces so tightly.