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Devil Shard

For: iPhone   Also on: iPad

Match three heaven

Product: Devil Shard | Developer: Game Stew Studio | Publisher: Game Stew Studio | Format: iPhone | Genre: Arcade, Puzzle, Retro, RPG | Players: 1 | Version: Europe | App version: 1.0.1
Devil Shard iPhone, thumbnail 1
After all this time, you might have thought that the matching puzzle genre was played out. And yet here we are, once again faced looking at an excellent and imaginative new take on the icon-swapping mechanic.

Not only that, but Devil Shard manages to lace the concept with lashings of personality, making this a quintessential coffee time game for anyone who likes their RPGs simple, fast, and retro-styled.

Turn-based tile-swapping triumph

Not only does Devil Shard successfully re-imagine the match-three gameplay mechanic, but it delivers a subtle, important tweak to its turn-based RPG action. You're cast as a warrior out to save the realm by defeating the Emperor, who gave up his humanity in search of ever-lasting life.

The plot's not really important (although it's nice to see that Taiwanese developer Game Stew Studio took the time and effort to include a bit of narrative), but it does provide the backdrops for the enemies you meet on your journey.

Combat is more or less turn-based, and uses the match-three game board to represent fights. It's only a small grid - smaller than you're probably used to - but that's not a criticism.

The reduced number of icons challenges you to be a bit more strategic when making matches. Where the puzzle mechanics differ is that you can swap any two adjacent icons whether they make a line of three or not.

This allows you to slide tiles around the board and configure more four and five tile combos than you'd usually be able to muster in a match-three game. The clever part is how this ties in with the combat.

Every tile you move reduces the enemy's hourglass by one, and when it hits zero they attack you. So spend a lot of time rearranging the pieces and you'll take a lot of damage. Minimise your movements and you can get more hits in before the enemy is ready to strike.

Pixels, points, and potions

IAPs explained
Gold is bought in packages to unlock new levels, upgrade weapons, and provide power-ups. You can earn them through play, but progress is slower than a paid game can justify. Packages cost from 69p / 99c for 1,000 to £19.99 / $29.99 for 75,000.
There are four types of icon: swords, shields, potions, and skulls. Match three or more swords and you attack your opponent.

Potions restore your HP, and shields increase your defences. Match three skulls and the enemy attacks you, regardless of their hourglass, and they get the same combo bonuses that you do should four or five skulls inadvertently align.

It's a seamless blend of match-three puzzle, turn-based combat, and RPG action, and it works more beautifully than its simplistic design would suggest is possible. Throw in the stylish Game Boy-esque pixel-art visuals and atmospheric piano soundtrack and Devil Shard is a thoroughly winning combination.

That said, we're deducting one point for greed. It takes a bit too long to accumulate the coins needed to unlock the next levels, new weapons, or upgrades.

And some of these upgrades are quite excellent and essential - the option to temporarily recruit powerful incarnations to help you fight, for example (and you've got to check out the delicious He-Man homage when the transformation occurs).

Naturally you can buy coins via an in-app purchase, and if this were a free-to-play title we'd forgive the heavy use of in-game currency. But it's not, so we won't.

Otherwise this is a strong contender for 2014's sleeper hit of the year, and we'll be keeping a very keen eye on Game Stew Studios from now on.
Devil Shard
Reviewer photo
Spanner Spencer | 14 May 2014
A brilliant and seamless combination of match-three, RPG, and turn-based combat that belies the simplicity of its excellent design
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