Have you ever wondered what would happen if someone were to fuse Tetris with an auto battling game? No? Me neither, but now there is such a thing from the developers over at Magic Cube. Merge & Blade does exactly what it says on the tin – it lets you merge soldiers, and then get them to use their blades to win battles. Think it sounds like an odd combination? You have no idea!
Short of “there are some monsters, make them not alive any more” there is no narrative kicking around in Merge & Blade, but that does mean we can get straight on to how things are presented. In that respect, the visuals are most definitely sitting on the retro side, with cute pixel art representations of the various units that you can make, as well as those of the enemies that they have to face. The rest of the graphics are pretty bland, with a screen where you make your units, a screen where you fight enemies, and then a map screen which lets you dictate where you want to go next. It’s all functional and clearly shows you what is happening, so a good mark there.
Sonically, Merge & Blade is similarly low key, with distressing squeaks as your units perish accompanied by nicer sounding ones as the enemies die. That is pretty much it, to be honest, and while it works well, a bit of music would have been appreciated.
The actual game itself is split into three sections: Story mode, a Challenge mode, and a Versus option. All three modes play out the same way, but Story sees you progressing across the land, freeing towns one by one; it is only by making progress in this mode that you can actually unlock Challenge Mode. Challenge mode then focuses on you trying to complete different scenarios, but they are very much a one hit and done – you have to finish each challenge in one sitting, and if you quit or die, then you have to start again from the beginning. Included in here is an endless option, where you have to survive for as long as you can. Finally, Versus mode is only for local couch based players, as there is no Xbox network play enabled. Weirdly, you can play versus mode with only one controller attached, allowing for some easy victories.
But how does Merge & Blade actually play? Well, the first section of the game is a match three, Tetris-styled puzzler. If you match three of the same unit, they will merge into one of the next rank up. So three Farmers will merge to form one Footman, three Footmen will merge to make one Soldier, three Soldiers will merge to make one Rogue, and so on and so forth. You also need to be aware that merging more than three units will still only make one new unit, so be careful. Now, this is a great idea, but you need to watch that you don’t just end up with one unit left at the end of the merging phase – it is often better to keep the units away from each other in order to have a bit of depth in your defence.
You also need to consider which units you make – for instance, Bishops are great at healing units around them, but don’t actually attack, so a team of only Bishops will struggle. Each unit has its own strengths – Soldiers can attack in front and diagonally, while Rogues can attack twice, and Spearmen can fire out at two rows of monsters, and so on.
The issue I have with this part of Merge & Blade is that no matter how carefully you arrange your units, keeping Archers behind other units, for example, when they run to the battle screen, all bets are off. The units seem to reorganise themselves however they want, and while you can swap the units around, there is only a limited number of swaps possible. And just to make it even worse, the units you choose to swap can only move one space at a time; if you have three rows of fighters, and want to move someone from the front to the back, they will need two swaps. The other thing to bear in mind is that when you do win a battle, and the units run to the merging screen, any that are adjacent will merge straight away.
As you fight, you will earn gold, and this can be spent in the upgrade section to ensure that your team is always tip top. Putting gold into the Academy will get you new units, for example, and these can then also be upgraded more to make them stronger. Other options include the ability to spend gold on getting more swaps, or more turns in the merging phase, and so on. Feeding the spoils of war back in will make your army stronger.
Merge & Blade plays pretty similarly across all the modes on offer and it is that which is both its strength and its weakness. Fun to play for short bursts, there is no doubt that earning new units is great, but it isn’t long before things start to feel like a drag. As a short term proposition then, Merge & Blade works, but I’m not sure the long-term hook is there.
Merge & Blade is on the Xbox Store
- Cute pixel art graphics
- Interesting mix of genres
- Merging is fun
- Why do the army rearrange themselves from one screen to the next?
- Gets a bit samey
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Purchased by TXH
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
- Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
- Release date - 28 February 2023
- Launch price from - £8.39