What is it about combat that makes plain old Match-3 games into something extraordinary? In the same way that turn-based combat made Bejeweled’s familiar formula far more addictive in Puzzle Quest 2, the Triple Town style of strategically matching objects gets a much-needed boost in Pixel Defenders Puzzle. This puzzle game adds more than just orcs and archers, though– it goes above and beyond with super-powered units, devious game variations, and adorable retro graphics.
If you’re not familiar with Triple Town’s style of gameplay, it’s distinct from the Bejeweled school of tile-swapping. Instead of starting with a grid full of objects, you start with a blank field and must place randomly-assigned objects anywhere you like. When you place three similar objects together, they’ll merge into one larger object, which earns you more points.
The doctor will infect you now.
Pixel Defenders Puzzle isn’t just about getting a high score– it’s about forming units who can fight back against a line of invaders at the top of the screen, and protect the V.I.P. who is wandering aimlessly around the battlefield. Like the bears in Triple Town, these V.I.P.s tend to get in the way, but they’re also the target of enemy attacks. The more matches you make, the more action points you’ll have to target enemies with various spells and weapons.
The strength of your defense is based on the types of units you’ve created on the battlefield. Different colored “pixels” can merge to create units like barbarians and rangers, which can then be matched in triplicate again to create stronger units like vikings and ninjas. If you’re really skillful, you can summon high-end units like plague doctors, assassins, magicians, scientists, and space marines.
Send in the space marines.
This is where we really fell in love with Pixel Defenders Puzzle. High-end units have extremely powerful attacks, but they’re difficult to obtain. The top-level scientist, for example, can turn enemy units into chickens, and the magician can make enemies disappear altogether. The space marine can call down a laser airstrike, and the plague doctor (complete with a medieval perfume-stuffed beak) can infect enemies with disease. Each unit has fanciful visual touches, like the magician’s top hat and mustache, or the space marine’s sci-fi communicator.
But Pixel Defender Puzzle’s cutesy look can be deceiving, because the game is extremely challenging in later levels. With fields that are cluttered with obstacles, multiple colors of pixels to match, and tough enemies that heal themselves and freeze your units, some of the later levels in Pixel Defender Puzzle can become frustrating. You have the option to purchase special tiles through in-app purchase, or earn them throughout the game by earning three stars on each level, but that’s no replacement for the brainpower required to complete each of the game’s 36 levels. There is also an optional endless mode, but it lacks online high scores.
Ooh eeh, ooh ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang.
Pixel Defenders Puzzle has lots of charm and challenge, and that’s exactly what we look for in a great puzzle game. Although the main gameplay is somewhat similar to another title, Triple Town, the combat elements make Pixel Defenders Puzzle feel fresh and exciting. The detailed characters are magnificent, and the touchscreen mechanics are simple and direct. We highly recommend Pixel Defenders Puzzle three times over.
Review originally published on January 7, 2013