Monumental would make the Mayan gods happy

Posted: November 5, 2009 in Puzzle

Depending on who you ask, Match 3 is either one of the most liked or the most hated genre for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform simply because of the sheer number of these games. Fortunately, a fair number offer innovative twists that keep many addicted to this traditional game. Take Reiner Knizia’s Monumental, a Match 3 that looks deceptively easy and where the gameplay is anything but. It’s a game of strategy that incorporates elements from Tetris where planning several moves ahead is not only part of the experience, but key to success. And, because of the simple interface and the challenging gameplay, Monumental may even entice those who have sworn off playing Match 3s ever again.

Set in a Mayan temple where the gods’ happiness is paramount, Monumental is all about making matches and lines. Visually, Monumental’s polished look is due in large part to an elegant interface. Accompanied by the drum beats of the Amazon, Monumental offers vibrant colors and a simple game screen consisting of two 4X3 grids that provide 12 slots for tile or stone placement.

Stones travel down the center of the screen, and can only be moved left or right. Once a stone is moved, the remaining stones drop down a space with a new stone appearing at top. The different color stones are illustrated with hieroglyphics or simple symbols including monkeys, birds, and snakes to name a few. The objective is to match rows of the same color, symbols, or number. For example, a single monkey can be combined with a single bird and single snake for a match. You can also make matches where rows have identical pairs such as two birds or two stones of the same color. Points are only scored when the bottom rows from both grids are filled with stones, and the game will clear rows until it reaches the next available open or unfilled row. And, depending on how you do, local and online scoring are available.

Of course, there are a lot more nuances that make Monumental well, monumentally challenging and fun at the same time. But let’s get into the basics first.

Monumental has two game modes: Action and Challenge. Action is a timed mode where speedy play is just as important as intelligent decision making. A timer is located in the upper right corner that quickly drains away and is only temporarily stopped when a match is made. The Mayan stone face located in the top middle of the screen serves as a clock surrounded by a circular set of lights. Each time the bar empties, a red light appears and once enough of these lights are lit up, an hour glass appears which only further reduces the amount time to complete matches.

Challenge Mode is an untimed mode where the objective is to continuing clearing the bottom rows with matches and to keep the game moving along. The game ends when skulls appear signifying matches weren’t made, and that the Mayan gods aren’t thrilled with your playing abilities. Of course, when losing, the laughing Mayan god can be both funny and eerie so that alone may be incentive enough to play smarter.

To help you in your task of keeping the gods happy, dynamite is available to clear out stones. At the bottom of the screen is a supply truck and tent, and with every stone places, the truck moves ever so closer to the tent. Each time the truck reaches the tent, dynamite is earned and stored at the bottom of the screen. To use dynamite, you simple drag it to a specific stone and then watch the resulting explosion.

Where Monumental stands apart from most Match 3s is in the gameplay. As mentioned, stones travel down the center of the screen and can only be moved left or right with remaining stones dropping down a space. By planning ahead, you can quickly move stones off into different rows, potentially setting up future matches just like in Tetris. Points and lines are important to scoring, and the last thing you want is to be forced into placing stones in the last row without a resulting match. Since there are 4 rows available, use them strategically to place stones that really don’t fit anywhere else, thus keeping options open for that last row.

Monumental progressively becomes more difficult by adding more color stones with even more symbols. New symbols are introduced in a god-like way, or as god-like as you can get on the platform, as they magically appear and disappear in the middle of the screen. Later on, broken stones are introduced and can only be cleared when making matches by color. To offset the difficulty a bit, color-only (no symbols) stones randomly appear that can be used to clear broken stones. Think of them as limited wild card stones since these can also be used to clear those with symbols of the same color to create matches.

While the matching combinations and attributes—color, symbol, number—may sound confusing initially, they do become second nature over the course of the game. But keep mind that relying on single attribute to score such as color will prevent you from scoring well. Obviously making matches and lines with the same attributes scores higher than pairs, but bonus points are awarded when making matches on both grids.

One of the shortcomings with Monumental is the instructions. Many of the nuances described here were discovered through gameplay. The instructions provide a good basic overview, and one can only hope that most players will take the time to realize the game’s deeper qualities.

Overall, Monumental is, well, Monumental is you’re looking for a Match 3 with a Tetris twist. Designed for casual players in mind, the game’s controls take advantage of the platform’s touch screen, and the gameplay is challenging and different enough that advanced gamers will enjoy this.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (challenging gameplay that forces you to plan ahead and different enough from the typical Match 3; innovative twists within the two game modes; elegant interface with simple, yet effective controls; auto save and the ability to play your own music if jungle beats aren’t your thing)

Check out my review at http://www.appversity.com/reviews/games/puzzle/monumental-would-make-the-gods-happy/

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