Overall Score 90%
Druids Battle of Magic
Every now and then a game comes along that can restore a reviewers faith in the puzzle genre. A genre that is so over-represented on the indie scene, that finding a good indie puzzler can be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Look no further readers. The champ is here!
An evil power has stolen a magical book from the Druids of Earth, Water, Fire and Forest (Those maniacal looking munchkins in the screenshot). Together they must follow the trail the thief has left behind and battle through 110 levels of pure fun to reach the dark castle and return the treasure.
Mandatory irrelevant plot aside, the player manipulates blocks on the playfield on either the horizontal or vertical plane, switching positions of adjacent blocks. Once 3 blocks of the same type are connected, they are removed from the board and other blocks cave in on the newly created hole with replacement blocks sliding in from pre-determined entry points at the top of the puzzle. The object of every level is to clear the playfield of obstacles. These obstacles are (in order of strength): wooden crates, metal plates, blue force fields and orange force fields. These obstacles can only be cleared when detonating the blocks they contain by either matching blocks or using a magic spell.
Orange force fields become blue ones when destroyed, which in turn become metal plates when detonated. Metal plates can be broken off to reveal wooden crates, and these are smashed open, finally to clear the square. Destroying the orange force fields should be your main priority early in the level, while there's lots of time left.
As blocks are cleared from the playfield, an amount of mana corresponding to the colour of the cleared pieces is added to the players reserve at the bottom of the screen. When enough is saved up, the player can release the stored energy as a spell which can clear one or more blocks depending on which invocation is used. The game is extremely fast moving at times, and strategy is very important in determining when and where the spells should best be utilised.
These little screenshots do not do the game justice when it comes to describing how the game looks and feels to play. The graphics are of outstandingly good quality, with smoothly animated tiles and effects. As the action heats up with multiple combos detonating all over the screen, crates being smashed to smithereens, and metal plates flying around the visuals come into a class of their own.
Druids sounds as good as it looks. The in-game music is perfectly matched to the gameplay, with some tense, occasionally off-beat and sometimes a little unnerving tunes. Sound effects are of a very high quality and ensure that when the player detonates a huge combo, the sound is commensurate with the mayhem on the screen.
The game is very addictive. Whilst playing through the story mode I managed to amass well over 350 lives before winning at level 110. Normally, you would think that this would kill the enjoyment of a game quite quickly, but strangely this was not the case in Druids. The fact that I wanted to play through all 110 levels came as a surprise to even myself, puzzle games rarely holding my attention for more than an hour or so. The levels from 100 to 110 seem to be noticably harder than the others, but apart from that there is no real increase in difficulty level as one progresses. This is a good thing in that the player never becomes bogged down and the action coninues at a fast pace. The game lends itself very well to coffee break style play, but don't be suprised if you find yourself taking hour long coffee breaks.
This is an extremely polished production. The interface is easy to navigate, and all appropriate options are available and accessible. The game is played entirely using the mouse, and has a very wide ranging appeal being suitable for gamers of all ages and abillity. There is significant strategy involved, however, the game remains (importantly) fun at any level of play.
There were two minor issues that I experienced during testing. Sometimes when re-trying a failed level, the background music would not play as it should. Additionally, sometimes when moving a piece into position such that both horizontal and vertical rows of blocks were formed, only one row would detonate, and occasionally this would frustrate a particular tactic. Neither issue seriously impacts on the games long term appeal. I can count on one hand the number of puzzle games I play on my PC these days, and Druids Battle of Magic has earned its place amongst them.
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