Welcome to the Lands of Arcane, where we join Merlin and Giggles the Imp on their travels. I'm not entirely sure what Merlin does on this quest but your own role is clear - you are to gather lots (and I mean hundreds) of magical components. Giggles stands by to offer you help and advice.
Magic Match is divided into seven stages, played at one of three difficulty levels. Along the way a story unfolds, set to music. The first song heralds the start of the game, and the others occur after each stage. A trip to see the Elven Queen becomes a quest to rescue her from pirates, and then there's the Djinn ("a creature that's evil and horribly mean" according to the song)...
Each level you collect components from a grid by selecting "chains" of three or more - a distinct improvement on the old concept of lines. You can go round corners! New components "scroll" in to replace the used ones. Collect your entire shopping list to advance to the next level, but don't take too long!
Collecting components earns you magic points, which are used to cast spells that swap components or reshuffle the board. If you get stuck, and you don't have enough magic to do either of these things, you've failed the level and need to restart - or you can challenge the Guardians to earn more starting magic, by scoring more points in a turn-by-turn contest.
There are plenty of extra elements to keep things varied. There are rewards for completing each level - extra magic points, new components to collect, improved spells, or the magic orbs that collect all of one component on screen (nice!). There are also bonus rounds, where you guide Giggles around a maze collecting diamonds.
As you can see from these screenshots, the graphics are pretty high standard. Giggles is well realised (he takes up a significant chunk of the screen, so he should be) and the story graphics are great too. Components animate and tiles slide about smoothly and professionally. More importantly, components are large enough to be clearly differentiated.
Sound too is high quality, though the music tracks can get repetitive, especially if you get stuck on one level. Sound effects for all events are well thought out; Giggles, for instance, squeaks a lot, and because some may find this irritating he very nicely asks us, after the first level, if we want him to shut up!
Playability is a big factor in Magic Match and for the most part it doesn't let you down. The controls are straightforward and new features are added over time (along with helpful tutorials that - especially importantly - can be turned off). The range of trophies in the study means plenty to aim for and there are three difficulty levels. Plus of course, there's no way to die!
There are some downsides, however. The lack of death can be a drawback - if you reach a difficult level with very little magic left, you're likely to get stuck with no way to move on. If this happens you could always challenge the guardians, but this too suffers - from a confusing scoring system (which tells you "Well done!" regardless of whether you actually win). And finally, the components to collect can sometimes be way out of balance - there's a big difference between 5 of one component, 40 of the others and 100 of one that rarely appears.
Ah, but I cannot be that harsh to Magic Match. Though the playability is a little imbalanced in the later stages, this is a game that looks, sounds and almost smells of professionalism. One cannot help but smile at those bizarre mid-stage songs (I'm almost sure they aren't meant to be taken seriously) and most of all it has that true gaming magic - you'll wonder where all the time went.
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