Genre-blending games somehow always manage to strike a chord with me, from Mass Effect to Borderlands to Blood Bowl to Activision’s BattleZone (look it up). So it is with Dungeon Hearts, a very time-sensitive puzzler with an RPG veneer that’s simple to learn, but I’ve had a hard time mastering.Dungeon Hearts is, at its core, a color-coded match-3 game that pressures you with limited time to maneuver your pieces, somewhat like horizontal Tetris. You control a party of RPG character tropes – a fighter, a mage, a healer, and an archer – each of whom are represented by a color. Arrange three similarly-colored pieces on the grid into adjacent spaces in order to create a button that executes an attack for that character when clicked, removing the buttons in the process. Align multiple attack buttons in horizontal or vertical lines to perform combo attacks. Some of the pieces correspond to enemy attacks; avoid damage by moving the enemy pieces into horizontal or vertical alignment with your attack buttons to remove them. There are some special piece types that throw a curveball at you – enemy pieces that speed up the game, pieces that can’t be moved – but the previous paragraph is essentially it. Your party fights one enemy at a time, and each enemy constitutes a “level,” after which there is a brief, additional match-3 game that serves to dole out experience points to each character. The RPG element really only comes into effect with special abilities each character unlocks while leveling up. The fighter can unleash a heavy attack that deals damage unrelated to the match-3 process, the mage can slow down the speed of the pieces (this one is huge), and the healer can…heal.
The visuals are bright and the character designs are cuddly, but you don’t really have your eye on much but the colors and shapes, so it’s hard for me to tell if the other graphics matter much. The score is appropriately peppy and occasionally dramatic, and it is another data point for my theory that the soundtracks of puzzle games carry more weight in those game experiences than they get credit for. If I have any qualms about Dungeon Hearts, it’s that I have a tough enough time trying to stay ahead of damage prevention to really worry about chaining together many advanced combos or singling out attacks from specific characters. Sure, my fighter hits harder, but I’m in a constant scramble to stop that rapidly-approaching string of enemy pieces however I can, I can’t get caught up in gathering all the red pieces. It’s hard for me to combine much of a strategic element into the game when the speed puzzling is difficult enough, and it is pretty difficult. When I do pull off a sweet combo, it’s appropriately satisfying. The game rewards combo success with animation flourishes that give them a feel of “Take that!” impact. Also, like many puzzle games, I found my brain calibrating to the language of the specific kind of challenge this game presents. I did get better with more play.
I’m finding myself playing Dungeon Hearts the same way I would play Bejeweled or Tetris. It’s perfect for the downtime you encounter with everyday life. At $2.99 on Steam it’s a great value pick. If you are looking for a game that blurs the lines between puzzle and role playing games, this game is definitely the way to go.
This review is based on a review code for the PC version of Dungeon Hearts developed by Cube Roots published by Devolver Digital
- Bright and Appealing Visuals
- Great Soundtrack
- Overly Simplistic
- Steep Learning Curve