It’s Good to Be King
I have a confession to make: I didn’t play Tower of Elements. As a big fan of match-3 genre mashups – and more importantly, match-3 genre mashups that try something new – this is a fact I’m pretty ashamed of. But over the last week, that shame has lessened.
I’ve fallen in love with ReignMaker, better known during its development cycle as Tower of Elements II.
As you can probably expect from a game with a previous moniker such as this, the core gameplay should be familiar to anyone who enjoyed the original Tower of Elements. Players will defend their tower (tower… defense?) using match-3 magic. Each match you make will send bolts of magic flying horizontally down the lane that the matched gems occupy. If an advancing enemy is coming down that lane, they’ll take damage and ultimately die.
It may sound simple on paper, but it’s maddeningly fast-paced in execution. You’ll be dealing with a large grid of gems, and the enemies won’t slow down just because you’re having trouble making that perfect match. ReignMaker is a game of quick thinking; of keeping an eye on marching enemies while struggling desperately to find the matches that will obliterate them.
It’s a frantic experience, but you won’t be without help. You’ll have spells, soldiers and gear that you can use to aid you in quest for glory. That said, managing these elements can add another layer to worry about. And did we mention that slaying enemies can sometimes result in gold you’ll need to click on? And that you’ll have missions pop up at random intervals that can net you bonuses?
ReignMaker is, for lack of a better term, Multitasking: The Game. It can sometimes feel like trying to rub your tummy, pat your head, and play QWOP at the same time. If you like frantic gameplay like I do, this is a very good thing. If not, you might feel overwhelmed. Slow and casual Candy Crush Saga this is not.
But while ReignMaker retains the match-3-meets-tower-defense gameplay of its predecessor, it also adds in a surprisingly satisfying second component: resource management. Rather than spending all of your time waging war with match-3 magic, you’ll also fill the shoes of city manager between battles.
Your town will provide you with the resources you’ll need to unlock new spells, recruit new defenders, and purchase helpful items. But balancing that resource creation takes some real thought. Do you want to upgrade your farms to produce food faster so you can grow your population? Or should you build up your quarry so that you’ll have the ore needed to improve your buildings faster? Little questions like this make the town management aspects of the game feel strategic, even if you are only spending a few seconds with them between battles.
You’ll also be tasked to make crucial decisions that affect your townsfolk each time you visit. This part of the game plays out very much like leadership aspects in The Banner Saga. Two farmers might have a dispute over a fence, or a flood might be on the way, and you’ll have to decide what to do.
Bite-sized narrative moments like these add a great deal of personality to the game, but they don’t seem to have any lasting impact. None of your choices will ever lead to a surplus or shortage of lumber, or people leaving (or flocking to) your little hamlet. It’s not a huge complaint, mind you, but it would have been nice if there was some weight behind the decisions you made.
ReignMaker does exactly what it set out to do: make me feel bad about missing Tower of Elements the first time around. Still, with ReignMaker at my disposal, I suppose there’s no reason to cry. A rich experience with frantic match-3 gameplay (and charming city management breaks in between), ReignMaker manages to reinforce the reputation that developer Frogdice has been cultivating over the last few years: that of a gamemaker you should be paying attention to.