Lost Inca Prophecy, a match-three game with a smattering of hidden-object puzzles, is a thoroughly disappointing experience. It tantalizes players with lovely artistic design and the promise of an interesting adventure through ancient Incan tombs filled with compelling matching games, and then nearly completely fails to engage the player.
Allow me to elaborate.
The text-based tale, which is filled with long paragraphs about Incan artifacts and lore that somehow fail to convey any truly interesting facts or information about this fascinating civilization, is utterly forgettable, and, worse, thoroughly pockmarked with spelling and grammatical mistakes. It would be a small miracle if, after scanning the first dozen or so blurbs of text, players were still bothering to read.
Of course, the same criticism can be leveled at plenty of highly entertaining match-three games; Shakespeare-quality storytelling clearly isn’t a prerequisite for a terrific puzzler. But the difference between Lost Inca Prophecy and great puzzle games is that the latter tend to instill in players an insatiable urge to keep playing, whereas the former leaves the player yawning and idly wondering what he or she ought to make for dinner.
The core play mechanics, which involve turning all of the squares on the board the same color by matching three or more like tiles, are fine. Indeed, they’ve been proven both intuitive and habit-forming in plenty other games, most notably those in the Jewel Quest series.
And, in an interesting twist, players can customize the type of matching they do by choosing whether they want the game board to be composed of squares or hexagons, then selecting the sort of matching mechanic they’d like to use. Options include clicking on groups of tiles containing matching Incan artifacts, swapping adjacent tiles, or chaining tiles together by clicking on one and then moving the pointer over neighboring tiles to add them to the group selected for removal.
The problem comes in how ridiculously simple it all is. There’s virtually no progression of challenge.
Various obstacles, such as tiles bound in rope, frozen in ice, or boxed up in crates, are gradually introduced over the first couple of chapters, but they’re so similar in design that they don’t really make things any more difficult. And all of the power-ups, such as a bomb that blasts off about a dozen tiles and a pair of dice that rearranges the board, are available early on in the game, leaving players with nothing to strive to unlock later on.
The boards themselves, which come in varying configurations and can be split into multiple, smaller play areas, do become more complex over time, but their only impact is to slightly lengthen the amount of time it takes to clear a board as players wait for matching tiles to fall into the right places.
Which leads to the next big issue: As far as I can tell, there’s no way to lose. You just have to keep clicking until all the tiles have been turned the proper color. That means the game is about endurance rather than strategy.
This will be especially true for players who choose to use the group matching play mechanic, which involves virtually no skill at all. At one point I closed my eyes and randomly and clicked all over the board just to see if I could solve a puzzle by fluke. It took about three minutes.
I thought perhaps the challenge was to be found in achieving a high score, but upon closer inspection the scoring system turned out to be completely irrational. Points are awarded based on the number of tiles removed. That means the less efficient a player is at solving a puzzle (that is, the more tiles he or she needs to remove before turning all tiles the proper color), the higher his or her score. Theoretically, you could just continue moving tiles, carefully avoiding the ones needed to complete the puzzle, and rack up infinite points.
Mixed in among the 100 or so matching puzzles are a handful of thoroughly disposable and somewhat unfair hidden object levels. Players are tasked to find random bits of broken artifacts that have no easily identifiable shape and have been hidden in the environment with no regard to their true size or color.
Luckily, the backgrounds are so unsophisticated that they’re still fairly easy to find. And in the unlikely event you do have trouble locating an item, a hint button that recharges every 15 seconds or so will show you its exact location.
One would think that it would be difficult to screw up a game with decent production values and play mechanics that most players are familiar with and enjoy. Alas, that’s exactly what has happened with Lost Inca Prophecy. Unless you happen to have a craving for some truly mindless matching, best save your $6.99.