Candy Crush Saga has got a lot to answer for.
It may not have been the first ‘Match’ title to hit the gaming scene – we’ve got to hand that crown to Bejeweled – but with the increase in mobile technology, it was certainly the one that brought the genre to the social masses. And from the launch of that game until the present day, we’ve seen a whole host of other Match style games arrive to try and recreate the addictiveness of the market leader.
Some have succeeded in delivering the necessary quality and time-wasting features that we look for in a game of this type, whilst others have failed dismally, unable to recreate the draw that is needed.
Some have even tried to fill us in with a ton of lore, and that is quite probably where the developers at Studio Craft got the idea for Lily’s Epic Quest for Lost Gems. See, not only is this a Match 3 (or 4, or 5, or however many similar shaded blocks you care to line up), but it also brings us a reason for doing all that. Yep, this isn’t just the usual time wasting experience usually found in the genre. It has a story.
And it is with that tale which I will start, as Lily’s Epic Quest for Lost Gems drops you firmly into the shoes of young Lily. Obviously. But Lily isn’t just any young girl and after watching her grandfather become an archaeologist extraordinaire, it has fallen to her to continue the family tradition of heading deep underground, with just a pickaxe to hand, in order to hunt down long lost treasures.
It’s nice to see some kind of narrative holding this title together too, because the initial cutscenes are well done for what they are, bringing belief and meaning to the adventures that await.
Away from that though and we need to get into the meat of the gameplay, and this is where things take a turn. Not for bad, and not for good. Instead for pretty mediocre.
As you would probably guess, the aim of the game is to match blocks, with various colours and types all present to ensure that the further you advance, the trickier things get. By controlling Lily with one stick, and a cursor for moving blocks around attached to the other, a little twin stick flexibility is required in order for you to discover the entire playfield, and the gems and treasures within.
Highlighting a square and moving left, right, up or down with the stick sees that gem then move, with any line swiftly removed from play should any match occur. But unlike many offerings from the genre, further blocks never fall into play and the space created is left for Lily to explore… all with the help of her trusty ladder.
By making matches, and creating space, you and Lily get to open up more of the game areas, moving deeper into various soil types and ensuring that the hunt for various treasure occurs.
Now, the trick to success comes in leaving the open spaces, well, open, allowing you to utilise gravity and drop blocks into these newly made areas. But at the same time, you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons of exploring with the use of the ladder, filling the spaces as you go, or dropping blocks in and attempting to make further lines.
Things get more complex as your movement options are limited, and only by removing certain squares, and grabbing extra movement points from matching special shiny blocks will you be able to go deeper underground. And the more you go south, the hardier you’ll need your pickaxe to be – something which is only seemingly upgradable by using it more and more.
Manage to complete the set objective for each stage – whether that be removing a specific number of blocks, finding particular treasure types or getting to a certain depth – and Lily will be able to stand proud next to her Grandfather as one of the best archaeologists the world has ever seen.
Unfortunately though, for as simple as matching lines of blocks should be, this epic quest falls pretty short in many areas. You see, there are massive irritations that crop up throughout your time with the game and even though I’d probably forgive the horrible-to-navigate level select map screens and the fact that once you select a gem, you can’t actually unselect it, the super slow paced nature that Lily goes about her excavating business is enough to send you stir crazy. Granted, this isn’t a game in which speed is of the essence, but every single change of direction or halt from Lily is met with her turning to face the camera, before spinning again to wander off down her ladders. This wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t occasionally have to go collecting the extra move stones that magically erupt from glowing squares, or the special items which help you out on the quest – drills and bombs will happily remove the playfield of numerous obstacles in one fell swoop, whilst a radar will ping when it finds something expensive – but with these disappearing within a matter of seconds of them appearing, it would be lovely to see Lily get a bit of a move on occasionally.
The entire random nature of things doesn’t help either. I guess it has to be that way for any proper Match 3 fun to take hold, but when you get specific tasks and objectives which need to be carried out in order to see a level end, then you need to be sure that those objectives can be carried out. But I’m not sure that is always the case here. Those that task you with heading a set distance underground are all well and good, because well, the only thing that is going to stop you there is your own incompetence in matching blocks, but some stages require you to find specific collectible loot, normally with a minimum value. And that is where this game has me stumped because after multiple attempts at trying to find some items of value on one level in particular, I’m convinced that they are not in place.
That quite obviously puts a dampener on things, leaving you to grind out previously completed levels in order to upgrade your pickaxe enough to continue heading into studier soil types. Grind is good. Sometimes. Perhaps not this time though.
Wandering around aimlessly to match lines of blocks is a fairly simple affair, but how do the visuals and audio that accompany this pan out? Well, you’re not going to find anything in Lily’s Quest that is going to wow you on either of those fronts. But whilst the eye candy doesn’t need to sparkle and snap at every opportunity (you’ve got to remember that this is, in all intents and purposes, a simple Match-3er), they are just about decent enough to bring across the cutesy vibe well.
The same cannot be said for the audio though, and if the basic sound effects don’t annoy you, the constantly looping backing track will utterly destroy your ears. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever found a game that comes with such a madness inducing tune as that found in Lily’s Epic Quest. Dare play this game around others and you’ll find your eardrums filled with expletives fairly quickly. If ever there was a game that forced you to turn the sound off and stick your own playlist on instead, then this is it.
And once you’ve got that playlist rocking, it would seem like as good a time as any to grab a mate and get them helping you out on this treasure filled adventure and thankfully Lily’s Quest delivers a local head-to-head multiplayer option – one which drops you in to a completely random challenge stage, or one of your previously unlocked levels and tasks you with going head to head with your mate as the Grandfather. It’s a great way of honing your matching skills, and at least brings some bragging rights to the table.
At the end of the day, you have to seriously consider what you want from a game like Lily’s Epic Quest for Lost Gems. If you want something epic, you’re going to be left disappointed, but on the other hand, should you be after a strangely addictive Match-3-a-thon then it’s well worth a shot – especially considering the fact that 10 worlds play host to more than 250 different collectibles. Don’t expect to be amazed by anything you find, and make sure you switch the music off in an instant, but for the price, if you have the patience of a Saint, then you may as well head underground and help young Lily tread the footsteps of her grandfather.