Game Review: Murphid
Genre: Puzzle (Matching)
Developer: Decapod Studios
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, Windows Phone 7
MSRP: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
ESRB Rating: N/A (I’d rate it E)
My first thought when playing Murphid was “Oh look, it’s Dr. Mario without the Mario character!” You’ll quickly find, however, that this offering from Decapod Studios is actually quite a capable puzzler all on it’s own. The game follows somewhat similar rules to Dr. Mario: match colors of 3 or more, and you clear all the same color pieces that are connected to that match. Unlike many other games of this type, in campaign mode the pieces do not fall from the top; you are given all the time you need to decide where to drop the block. You cannot rotate the piece, however. Your only option is to swap it with what is coming next, so each drop allows you to choose between 2 blocks. The drop is also a literal drop, you do not get to maneuver the piece at all; where you line it up is where it will appear at the bottom.
Of course, a game like this wouldn’t work without some sort of pressure being put upon the player, and in this game there are two things working against you. First, the floor is always moving upwards, pushing the stack higher as you work to clear out the colors. So while you can spend all the time you want placing blocks, you’re still racing against a clock in some regard to make moves quickly. The second obstacle is that the pieces you are dropping are bound together (as are most of the pieces in the playing field when you start). This means that if you drop a piece in such a way that one part hits a stack that’s higher than the other part, the block stops at the higher level, since it is bound. This makes planning and combos more difficult, as you must break the colors holding the binds in order to release the pieces to fall. You can get a better idea of this concept by viewing the screenshots and video in this review.
Not everything is working against you as you play. One of the things I particularly liked about the game is the variety of powerups that you will get to help you clear the board. These range from bombs to destroy chunks of the field, to droppers that change a large section of blocks to a single color, to lightning bolts that clear out an entire column of blocks. The game provides these to you fairly regularly, so you should be able to manage the stack fairly well, especially early on. The learning curve is very gradual; you shouldn’t lose a life in the first 20 levels unless you’re negligent. The sounds and graphics are crisp (though there is no music in the game), and I found that removing the ability to rotate the pieces actually helped me to focus more on quick placement to get the pieces I needed for the board. There is also a decent variety of gameplay modes, from the 12 level Campaign mode, to an Arcade mode (which plays a little more traditional; the pieces fall from the top, and the board pushes pieces up after only after you’ve dropped a certain number of pieces), to a Survival mode, where you try to last as long as possible against a playing field that is constantly moving upward (this differs from Campaign in that campaign is a series of rounds that, if cleared, reset the board). The game also has a variety of in-game awards (no achievements for Indie games) that will keep you playing to unlock.
While your progress in campaign mode is saved between gameplay sessions, strangely your high scores are not. Seeing as this game does not have global leaderboards (an indie game limitation), you’d think you could at least challenge your own high scores, since there’s no other driving factor besides the awards. Also, while the tutorial that explains the game is decent, it does a poor job highlighting the various powerups; a couple are explained, and the rest are up to you to figure out (even the help menu says they “hope you’ll have fun figuring out what they do”). In Campaign mode, the difficulty takes forever to ramp up; fortunately you can skip levels once you complete them, but for the sake of high scores it is a painful grind in the first 25 levels. Large combos are also very rare (and almost never by accident) due to the nature of how the bound pieces behave. The fun of games like this is having those occasional, board clearing moments where you like to think you planned it all ahead of time (but really just had a stroke of luck). Without that, you tend to feel the game plays more like a grind.
vttym’s take: It’s a puzzler that manages to add gameplay elements that make it unique, but is familiar enough to allow players to jump right in. The lack of a saved local leaderboard is a huge gaffe here; which means there is just no incentive to play for a score (which these games are all about). Fortunately, for $1, the price is not prohibitive, so if you are in the mood for a new puzzle game that will keep you busy for a few hours, you can do worse than this game. The variety of gameplay modes and overall fun outweigh the negatives of the game, but only slightly.
+ Good variety
+ Price is right
+ Gameplay mechanic (bound pieces, powerups) are well done
– Lack of local leaderboards means writing down your top score
– Learning curve a little too gradual
– Bound pieces means large combos are a rarity
Final Score: 6/10