Sponsored By: HH-Games (review code)
Time Arthuring 100 minutes
At the time of this writing, I have 897 games in my Steam library, with more than that scattered across various PC game stores, and I’m not even touching on the games in my console libraries. The volume of my leisure choices is by turns breathtaking and nauseating.
So why can’t I stop playing this little match three game?
Retired Calibur Review
I like match three games. I’ve liked match three games ever since I first played Bejeweled on a Sony Clié, which is what smartphones were before Apple pocket-sized their strategy of making shiny things that try to do all your thinking for you. Strictly speaking, the Clié didn’t have a phone in it, but if we’re being honest the phone part is the least important part of Apple’s ubiquitous line of Twitter conduits. Basically, I liked match three games before Apple made it cool to whip out a match three game in the grocery checkout line.
So when HH Games asked me to review The Chronicles of King Arthur - Episode 1: Excalibur, I said “sure.”
Modern match three games tend to be infected with free-to-play-itis; the most prominent symptom of which is the tendency for a game to become impossible to play without buying consumable win-buttons. I’m all for evolving a genre, but the depth I’m looking for isn’t at the bottom of my wallet. The Chronicles of King Arthur - Episode 1: Excalibur is a standalone match three game that has a single price you only pay once, and you get the whole game. These days that amounts to a radical departure for the genre, but the developers have a history of such radicalism. Good for them, says I.
While it does eschew the pay-to-win sensibility of its competitors, The Chronicles of King Arthur - Episode 1: Excalibur does have a few nods to modernity. Every level has certain win conditions, which may include matching a certain number of a given tile or moving one unmatchable tile from the top row to the bottom row. So far I haven’t run across the dreaded “complete these objectives in a paltry number of turns” condition, but that’s probably because the levels are all timed. Power-ups are available to do things like clear an entire row, or collect all of a particular tile, but they’re gated by your score in a level rather than your credit rating. The more tiles you match, the more you build your power bar, which you use to trigger the special abilities that other match three games make you pay for.
I’m of two minds about timed match-three levels. On the one hand, it lends some urgency and excitement to the game. On the other, who is going to remember to pause a match three game when they need to pee? Fortunately when you start a new game, you can opt out of the timer and play at a more leisurely pace. It’s possible that the levels are harder without the clock, but if they are I haven’t noticed.
All the match three action is in the service of the story, which tracks the rise of King Arthur. As you play, you’re treated to surprisingly well-voiced, static-image cutscenes. There’s also a light base-building mechanic in which you spend points earned in “combat” to expand your army. Before you get excited, it’s not anything deep or strategic. Mechanically, it amounts to waiting until you’ve played enough levels in order to have the necessary materials, and then clicking on the next item in a list. It’s basically just a visual way of tracking the story, and I would have liked to see more done with it. Perhaps in Episode 2.
The match three gameplay itself, though, is rock solid. Most of the matchable tiles are distinct objects with different shapes, making the game almost accessible for folks with colorblindness. I say “almost” because there are two tiles that are color-swaps of the same gem: one is pink, the other is purple. That is a differentiation I’ve always had a great deal of difficulty with, so I can only imagine how hard it would be for a person with dichromatism or anomalous trichromatism.
Other than that, which is only occasionally an issue considering how many different tiles there are to match, the gameplay is about as addictive as match three can be. The power ups add a welcome layer of strategy, and the timer makes the power-ups feel more useful. It’s an impressively well fleshed-our experience.
You may not be able to play it in a grocery store, unless you carry your laptop around in your back pocket (and if you do, do you mind if I ask where you buy your trousers? Asking for a friend.), but I’d recommend The Chronicles of King Arthur - Episode 1: Excalibur to any fan of the genre.
Will I match on?
The Chronicles of King Arthur - Episode 1: Excalibur is likely to remain my go-to choice for when I’m procrastinating and don’t feel like opening a web browser. It’s fun, mildly addictive in that “one more level” way, and the utterly superfluous story mode is at least competently executed and well voice acted. Honestly, in 2019 I don’t know if you could ask more from a match three game.
Is it the Dark Souls of Match Three Games? And have I said Match Three enough in this review?
I think it’s a categorical impossibility for The Chronicles of King Arthur - Episode 1: Excalibur to be the Dark Souls of its genre, because games like Toy Blast exist, which are virtually impossible unless you spend money on them. On the other hand, the game is a superbly executed version and the levels, while not overly difficult, feel scrupulously fair.
I’ll rate it one sword out of stone on the Dark Souls scale.