The Match-3 genre is one of the most basic and straightforward ones. You have colored icons and it's your job to match three or more of them together to clear them out and gain points. Many games have taken to adding a little spice to the genre, however, bringing in other genre elements that are supported by the core gameplay of Match-3. Oafmatch follows the common trend of blending Match-3 with RPG elements, much in the way the Puzzle Quest series did. There are things that Oafmatch does better than its peers, and things it falls short on. So the question is, is the overall product worth your time and money?
You can begin your oafish journey on Steam for $5.99.
With a name like Oafmatch, some answers as to why it's called that are warranted. Thankfully, the game does have a story to clear up some questions. Oafmatch is your standard RPG quest, with teams of adventurers, loot, monsters, and villains who are as powerful as they are evil. Oafmatch tries to turn the genre on its head, a little, by poking fun at the tropes the RPG genre is known for. For one, the titular hero, Knuckles the Oaf, is not an appealing one. RPGs are about escapsim, throwing yourself into a role bigger than your real self. While Knuckles might be physically larger than you, he is far from the ideal of anyone's fantasy.
Knuckles solves all his problems with violence. Bandits raiding a town? Punch 'em. Missing farmers? Punch 'em. An ever expanding plot involving more and more heroes and villains? Just keep on punchin'. If Knuckles' demeanor doesn't appeal, don't worry, because he's not the only character in this cartoonish tale. Knuckles will be joined by 29 other, unique, heroes, all of whom find Knuckles utterly baffling and yet fascinating. Whenever Knuckles goes, they follow, and he's perfectly find with an entourage so long as they don't get in the way of punching.
Oafmatch, if you couldn't tell, tries to be a humorous game. Based on personal taste, the humor just doesn't work. It tells the same jokes that have been told before in other satirical games that did it better. It's hard to take off many points for failed writing, however, when there's not a person alive who would look at this game and say, "Wow, I bet that game has a compelling plot." In a Match-3 game, the gameplay is not a vehicle for the story, a means that only that genre could express the tale. The story is tertiary, existing only as garnish on the meal you came to enjoy.
It's a common misconception to assume all Match-3 games play the same. After all, they often look alike. There are certain elements that must be noted when deciding if a Match-3 game is for you. Your battles will take place on the field of a Match-3 board, with your heroes on the left, and the villains on the right. The board is an 8×8 grid, totaling 64 different gems, as they are commonly referred to in the genre, that you can use to make matches with. Of the gems, there are six colors that will add to your mana reserves and serve as fuel to use your spells and abilities. In addition, there is a seventh gem type, black, and when you make 10 black gems match, you'll activate a stage event that will help you, and hinder your enemy, in a predetermined fashion. Only adjacent gems may be swapped.
This may all sound like totally unnecessary information, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The bigger the board, the easier it is to make a match. However, with a bigger board size, you are less likely to get longer combos as compared to a smaller board. The chances of the right color being in the right position, or the right one falling into one after a match, shrink as the board gets larger. Additionally, the more kinds of gems are on the field, the less likely you are to get long combos, sometimes referred to as cascades. In and of itself this might sound like a big deal, and for some it isn't, but depending on why you enjoy Match-3 games, it can be an issue. For many, the most enjoyable part of a Match-3 game is getting cascading combos, clearing out many gems to a cacophony of pleasing sounds and lights. It hits at a very basic part of the brain, and it's why the genre is so popular among so many.
The means in which you swap gems also changes the enjoyment, depending on your preference. Some games allow you to swap any two gems from anywhere on the board. Some, like Puzzle & Dragons, has a more complicated means of matching that would take too long to get into. Most, like Oafmatch, employ the classic "swap adjacent gems to make matches" method.
So with all that technical talk out of the way, let's talk about whether or not Oafmatch is fun to play. Oafmatch does exactly what it should do, which is to provide a game that's easy to get in and out of. Truthfully, this title would be more at home on a mobile platform than a PC one, but that's not something to hold against it. This a game where you'll be surprised how many hours you've racked up in it because you may play it alongside a browser window, watching streaming video or typing something up in a chatroom. There's no need to pause the game, just make your move and look away, letting the enemy finish their turn.
Oafmatch is not about matching gems to get a highs core, like Bejeweled. Your goal is matching gems is two-fold. By matching gems, you deal direct damage to whichever enemy you are targeting. Each color of gem is associated with a stat, like strength and wisdom. The character that deals the damage is whoever has the highest value in the appropriate stat. Because of this, it's important to diversify your crew. Having multiple characters with a main stat of Wisdom is redundant, as only one will deal damage with each match. Having a lack of representation in a stat is even worse, as it makes one color on the board nearly useless, and will only serve to hinder you.
By matching gems, you also gain mana in that associated color. You will use mana to use a variety of spells and abilities that your team can be equipped with. Each character can only equip two items, and each slot is locked to a certain color. So like your stats, it's vital to diversify your equipment slot colors. You don't want to go into battle and find out that you have nothing that can use yellow mana, for example. The combination of stats, colors, equipment, and innate hero abilities, all across 30 different characters, allows for in depth strategy you don't often see in this genre. The variety of heroes is amazing even for an RPG, but this variety seems to carry with it a negative, and that's in one of the enemy types.
There is your usual cast of creatures you'll fight. Mushrooms, skeletons, serpents, dragons. All of these mindless beasts will produce attack gems on the board. They add a turn counter to a gem on the board, and when it reaches 0, damage will be dealt to you. You can stop this by making a match using that attack gem. Monsters also cannot make matches like you can, only by chance when their attack gem goes off. Instead they generate mana each turn, which they spend on attacks. Monsters are not alone in their fight, and are sometimes joined by more powerful foes, which is where the aforementioned problem comes up.
These more powerful enemies, denoted by a red-border, have their own spells, abilities, and even the ability to make matches, quickening the rate that monsters make attack gems. These enemies, however, use the same exact character models as your heroes. At first this isn't noticeable, as you won't run into enemies who look like your team. Eventually you will see crossover. Your Vick the Thief looks exactly like the enemy Thief, just with an actual name attached. These enemies also have the same exact equipment slots as their heroic counterparts. This allows for a wide variety of attacks. Each of these heroes has such a unique and interesting design, with charming and skillful artwork. It's not so amazing that it has any reason to be re-used so blatantly. It's a practice that leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
When going up against red-border enemies, since they can make a match, their turns go on even longer than if they weren't there. Sometimes, these turns go on for an eternity, as each monster has to play out the animation of putting out an attack gem, and the red-border enemies have to make a match, and if they get a 5 match then they get another turn. It becomes interminable. Though really only under 20 seconds, Match-3 games are all about speed, so 20 seconds is a lifetime.
Outside of battle you will travel around a map by means of little markers that provide either story content or battles. Each of these battles has three difficulty levels and rewards a star upon completion, as well as loot unique to that difficulty. You'll need stars in order to progress to the next stage. Here's the kicker. There are not enough stars to progress if you only do each battle once. In order to get enough stars, you have to do many of the battles multiple times. Since each battle plays identically, only variance being the enemies that show up, repetition like this would be a problem even if you only had to do each fight once. So having to do multiple battles multiple times isn't so much an annoyance, as it is a sign of content-padding.
There's no exploring to be had, like in Puzzle Quest 2. The RPG elements are purely just the stats, equipment, and party management. And this isn't a terrible thing. Even with RPG elements, at its core this is a Match-3 title, and it successfully provides the Match-3 experience, though sometimes too slowly because of some RPG mechanics.
One unique feature to Oafmatch is a community spell. By signing up and logging into the developer's website, you can chat with others in game, and, over time, a powerful community spell will become available to you. As cute as an idea as this might seem, locking a solo-game mechanic behind a forced community sign up is a bit distasteful. Perhaps it's just paranoia, but tactics like that create an uneasy feeling.
In addition to the campaign there is a Roguelike mode. In this mode, you select four starting heroes, begin at level one, and set forth from battle to battle. Each room offers up a fork, letting you choose one battle or the other, with the rewards and enemies presented to you first. Any heroes unlocked carry over to the next attempt, following your death, but that's all; starting over means losing all experience and gear. With the lack of exploration, and no real feeling of getting stronger with each attempt, just getting more options, this feels less like a Roguelike and more like an endurance run. Still, if permadeath games with minor advancements between attempts appeal to you, then this mode does provide that level of content.
You don't have to do much to make a Match-3 game graphically modern; in fact, the simpler the better. Oafmatch won't wow anyone with its stunning visuals, but the art style fits the tone perfectly. It's cartoonish enough to match the humor, but not so cutesy that the talk of cannibals and quests of violence seem out of place. The colors are vibrant, which in the case of gems is very important. The diversity of cast is amazing, especially for an indie title. It's just a shame that assets were re-used so much. Wouldn't call it lazy, not by a long shot, but the result is still disappointing.
The sound of gems matching is of vital importance, as it needs to be as pleasing to see as it is to hear. Again, Oafmatch is not setting any new industry standards, but the job is done and is done well. Music tended to get annoying after awhile, and so that was eventually muted for the sake of enjoyment.
Oafmatch, like its hero Knuckles the Oaf, is simple in its appearance, but there is more depth there than people would give it credit for. Though lacking in subtlety and grace, there is an experience that is expected when playing a Match-3 game, and Oafmatch succeeds in providing the player with that experience. It's diversity of equipment and heroes is surprising, and refreshing, showing that a game from a casual genre doesn't need to do just the basics to get by. However, it still finds obvious ways to cut corners, and the social element is at best misguided, and at worst exploitative. At the very least, it's suspicious. Any time a game asks you to unlock content by doing something outside of the game it should be met with scrutiny.
For $6, there's a lot of hours of playtime to be had with Oafmatch. While there are other titles that mix the genres of RPG and Match-3 better, all of them have so far been more expensive and lacking in depth for some of the shared features. Oafmatch is a worthwhile experience, for the price of admission.
|+ Charming, unique, visuals and character design.||– Re-used assets and content padding.|
|+ Surprising amount of variety and depth of strategy.||– Roguelike mode feels hollow and not fun.|
|+ A solid Match-3 experience with RPG spices.||– Writing/humor leaves much to be desired.|