Sunday, January 4

High Horse Audit 2014: The Janet Jackson Award

This year I've found it necessary to acknowledge the game that most effectively said Come Back To Me (it's a dope song, don't deny it) in 2014. Whether it was in a hotel in Paris, on the road through rural New South Wales, or flat out on the couch, there was one game that had me coming back throughout the year.

That game was, and is, Marvel Puzzle Quest.

There are many ways in which Marvel Puzzle Quest can be considered a better game than it was at this time last year, when it took out top honours in the 2013 High Horse Audit.

First of all, is the continually expanding roster and the maintenance of balance. With each month, a few new characters are brought in and offered as prizes in PvE and asynchronous PvP events. Older characters are not neglected: they may be boosted for specific events so that you have a better chance of snagging new, rare heroes, or they may have received some tweaks to make them more or less effective in battle. It may even be something as subtle as changing character artwork, like with the recent Wolverine update. Either way, the ever present team of Thor, Wolverine and Black Widow (Original) has made way for a great many combinations. I still think Legendary characters are a little too intimidating, but most fights are as fair as can be, given the arbitrary nature of Match 3 puzzle games.

The Team Up system replaces environmental attacks, which were rarely able to be used given their exorbitant cost. Now you can accrue a motley crew of heroes and villains with single-use attacks that can be unleashed upon building up Team Up points equivalent to the colour cost of their attack had they been in your base, 3 character team. This adds a whole new level of strategy, and all threats are transparently displayed before you enter any frays.

The variety of events has also increased to the point where developer, Demiurge have been able to drop the Dark Reign subtitle. There have also been delightful, once-off events like the Anniversary tournament which implemented a less stingy reward loop. Single player events are still prone to painful amounts of repetition, but at least the scoring system is a lot more transparent.

I've mentioned transparency a bit here, and I think that is the key to Marvel Puzzle Quest's success. It has revealed more and more of its secrets throughout the year, and those that were nasty or pointless have been mitigated to some extent.

Marvel Puzzle Quest is still a Match 3 puzzle game, so if that doesn't sound like your bag, then none of these changes are likely to sway you. Still, it was staggering just how different the game felt after having reinstalled it just before my trip to Europe earlier this year. Different, better, and, at times, far more rewarding.

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