After a few hours of Oneclick's Angel Salvation [Free], you're likely  to have developed Tetris Syndrome: colored gems, healing crosses, and devilish earth-tyrants will dominate your thoughts. It's turbo-charged high fantasy aesthetic notwithstanding, Angel Salvation begins zen-like, and your eyes may begin to glaze over as your fingers move about the screen, lazily flicking gems around, making matches and raining hellfire on your enemies.

The match-three gameplay drives a larger, Byzantine RPG, but in order to let you familiarize yourself with the differences between a guardian and a hero, between strengthening and evolving, between coins, diamonds, help points, and gems, Angel Salvation starts off pretty slow. You don't have to pay too much attention to the puzzle aspect for the first hour, give or take, and you can content yourself with making little three-gem matches and watching horned succubi explode. I found the experience kind of soothing and hypnotic, like a Tolkien-flavored quaalude.

And then I realized -- with no help from the tutorial I accidentally skipped -- two crucial tweaks on the standard Bejeweled-style format: a turn can end without the player having made a match, and moves aren't limited to adjacent spaces. In Angel Salvation, you can move any gem to any spot on the grid, displacing other gems along the way.

Suddenly, a breezy, lightweight puzzle game turns into a go-like case study on planning and engineering, a high fantasy Rube Goldberg machine. With a little luck and calculus, gems will come cascading down, generating combos, which multiply your damage output. One flick of the wrist can wipe out an entire screen of enemies.

But mechanics don't exist in a vaccuum, and Angel Salvation is balanced and paced just so, and the discovery of the game's finer strategies spring up organically as the game gets harder. Eventually, the game turns brutal, these higher-level tactics become critical, and every turn must be squeezed for combos and multipliers, like blood from a stone.

Eventually, I came to appreciate the overblown fantasy framing it all: the more spikes, fangs, baroque longswords, and glowing eyes something has, the more powerful it tends to be. It's a nice visual shortcut for how Sun-Tzu you'll need to be to survive the encounter.

So, yes, the match-three portion of Angel Salvation is fresh and fun and full of tension, but it also dovetails into a larger, Persona-like RPG that, while perhaps not as innovative, is smart and well-executed.

You'll have access to a stable of monsters and heroes, each associated with an element (hyperbolically called your "Legion" in-game). From these, you'll take five into each battle, and matching the colored gems will do damage based on the corresponding monsters' stats. You can build a balanced team to take advantage of every gem combination or, since quests are color-coded, load up on, say, fire-based monsters before taking on a grass-coded quest.

Completing quests gives you money, diamonds, and more monsters for your roster. Money pays for strengthening and evolution, both of which are done by fusing monsters together. These mechanics are relatively straightforward, but there's a fair amount of flexibility, and they create an effective feedback loop -- finish quests to make stronger monsters, which allow you to finish more quests. There's also a great sense of anticipation and discovery after every battle, hoping to land some rare beast or undead lich.

Diamonds are used to generate more powerful monsters for your retinue, but also to expand your legion past the default 20 or to replenish your mana pool. Each quest has a mana cost, but your mana can be replenished by leveling up, or piecemeal every eight or so minutes. In a game with several different types of in-game currency, diamonds are the most versatile and the rarest which is exactly why they're at the forefront of the game's IAP.

On the surface, Angel Salvation seems pernicious: if you run out of mana, you can't keep playing unless you replenish with diamonds, which can only be obtained by paying real money, or, uh, playing the game you're locked out of. In practice, this has never been an issue for me. Not only is the in-app storefront not working yet, but I've only ever run out of mana after making really bad choices. Quests with higher mana costs are more difficult, and it should be easy to judge whether or not you're boxing out of your weight class.

The mana system also informs some of the larger design choices. Mana is replenished over time, and each quest is relatively short. As a result, Angel Salvation is an ideal game for your morning commute or coffee break: by the time you get back to it, your mana will have naturally replenished itself.

The last piece of Angel Salvation's economy are called "help points," a remarkably clever and pro-social system that allows you to create a friend list and use other players' best creatures as reinforcements in your own campaign. Before each fight, the game generates a set of characters available to you, a mix of your friends' and strangers'. Using reinforcements gives you help points, which can be cashed in for extra monsters for your legion.

Conversely, you'll also receive points when someone else uses your monster, further incentivizing the growth and evolution systems. Upgrading your own team will make them more attractive to the market, which lands you points to buy more fuse-able beasts, which makes your team stronger, etc.

Help points create (yet another) Skinner box, but it's also oddly comforting. When I woke up this morning, I had 800 extra help points, which means that while I was sleeping, 80 different people found my Angel useful enough to bring along. (And seriously, she's great. Her light element and healing ability are both relatively rare.)

Angel Salvation seems needlessly complex on the outset, but none of the mechanics or currencies are particularly deep once you get the hang of them. Each one, however, is well-realized and potent in the larger game, and they all create a sense of constant progression that's attractive without being predatory, each little loop nested in another one. Angel Salvation tweaks match-three-driven RPGs effectively, and it does the same to our established notion of social "energy" mechanics -- it's smart, engaging, and generous.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarNone
  • Flare_TM

    Hows this anything like a Rude Goldberg Machine?

  • kendahlj

    Yeah the headline tricked me into reading the review and now I'm interested but sounds very little like a rube Goldberg type game...

    • Con

      Yeah, I mean I've played the game (it really is a lot of fun - a more complicated "match 3" type) but I'm really not seeing the reference.

    • Adams Immersive

      Just an analogy for a carefully-planned “chain of events” I guess.

  • chespace

    Great review. Probably the best I've read on this site in years. Also, a truly amazing game. Good job.

    • https://me.yahoo.com/rekzkarz#a0df5 REkzkaRZ

      Great review?!?  Did we read the same review?  
      There were so many lines that jarred me out of any appreciation -- "Angel Salvation seems pernicious", "constant progression that's attractive without being predatory", "a larger, Persona-like RPG that, while perhaps not as innovative, is smart and well-executed".  etc etc
      My main complaint is this review desperately needs a translation with less badly formed, vacuous metaphors and references, or another way of saying this might be -- write for your audience.
      Keep it simple, to the point, and don't write a 2 pager if 2 paragraphs will do.
      I'm not illiterate in any sense.  As I read this review the thought kept popping up -- is this a joke?  Is this someone's attempt at seeming literate or intellectual?
      So, whether the game is good or no, this review is 'no good'.

      • kendahlj

        Go get an education then come back and complain.

      • Johnvanjim

        I would argue that the previous poster has salient points and understands the review just fine. It just needs a tad less hyperbole and odd metaphors.

  • BagOfMice

    Why does it require the Internet connection?

  • http://twitter.com/soario Soario Inc.

    Wait, no one has realised that all the game asset is a direct rip from Diablo? The runes are from Diablo 3 as are elements of the user interface. Even the screenshot on the iTunes page has a statue of Tyriel, straight from Diablo.

    The game sound really interesting and the style of gameplay is right up my alley, but I don't think I can endorse such a blatant rip-off!

  • http://twitter.com/soario Soario Inc.

    Wait, no one has realised that all the game asset is a direct rip from Diablo? The runes are from Diablo 3 as are elements of the user interface. Even the screenshot on the iTunes page has a statue of Tyriel, straight from Diablo.
    The game sound really interesting and the style of gameplay is right up my alley, but I don't think I can endorse such a blatant rip-off!

    • http://twitter.com/nrathaus Noam Rathaus

      They are the same, a bit different orientation on some of them, but they icon style, "text" and colors are a great match :D

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OOR3VXIO33NCPM6CDNAKXBLE6Y Hi.Ka.Ri

    Just another Chinese copy-cat of the Japanese game "Puzzle and Dragons"

  • http://twitter.com/deathfisaro Ken Lee

    Well, the game's a rip off of Puzzle & Dragons, so it is no surprise if this game ripped off Diablo 3 assets as well.

    I actually made a Japanese account to play P&D and Million Arthur.
    After a couple hours I wanted to use IAP. You can drop a couple bucks to draw some rare cards and kill enemies with a couple combo or match 4~5. Or you can plan a couple turns for a 16 combo to do the same damage without IAP.

    I don't know about this game but if there's IAP, I'd assume the balancing would be about the same.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OOR3VXIO33NCPM6CDNAKXBLE6Y Hi.Ka.Ri

    That (Chinese?) company has a track record of copying the game mechanics of P&D. The first one is a Chinese game in the theme of "Three Kingdoms Era".
    What a shame...

  • http://www.taptoplay.de Lakeshore

    Dear TouchArcade,

    it's been a year since Apple presented iCloud. Please - finally - change your review guidelines and mention with every Universal App if it does support a sync between different devices. And please mention with every App if it does support iCloud, because iCloud is one of the very few possibilities to keep and restore your gaming progress after a reinstall of the game.

    Bye,
    Oliver

  • JervoNYC

    Anybody else having trouble just logging in through Facebook? I installed it on both my iPhone 4 and my iPad 3 and it freezes at the FB login in both places.

    • http://www.facebook.com/delfrate Bruno Del Frate

      The same for me: FB login doesn't seem to work at the moment.

  • Benjamin Rodriguez

    I don't typically like these types of games, but man this game looks so badass.

  • soldat7

    Why no mention of the always-online requirement? No mention of iCloud or Retina support either...Again, why not?

    Come on TA, these are basic things readers want to know about.

  • Hawaii Jeff

    Yeah the always-online requirement is especially "pernicious", and is really a deal-breaker for me.

    I would think it important enough to mention in the review.

  • http://twitter.com/YoruBoya 獅子丸

    I can't help emphasizing that this game is compete ripoff of a Japanese million hit, Puzzle & Dragons, which was released in February.
    No English version does not mean it's OK to copy a game, does it?

  • http://twitter.com/Lozano Lozano

    I can't play a game in japanese, but I can play this one... And this game is super addicting!

    invitation code 9D0DD35

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/OOR3VXIO33NCPM6CDNAKXBLE6Y Hi.Ka.Ri

      The fact that one cannot play any game in Japanese should never be used as a justification to support such a blatant infringement to the creativity of the original developer (Gungho, who is also the developer of "Princess Punt").

      And given the fact that that Chinese publisher has repeatedly copying the said Japanese game mentioned by "Shishimaru" and others in this thread, it is clear that the Chinese publisher did it intentionally - they even claimed that they received the authorization from Gungho, yet Gungho's customer representatives are shocked of knowing the existence of the Chinese copy-cat in their reply to my enquiry so it is presumable that the Chinese publisher lies.

      • http://twitter.com/Lozano Lozano

        I'm here to play games, not to analyze how much copyright infringement each game has.

        I don't support copyright theft, but I also don't support companies that don't care about gamers outside of Japan.

  • odi0n

    My character say MAX next to his level abbreviation. So how come when I try to evolve him, the "evolve" button is greyed out, thus negating my evolution. Has anybody figured this out?

    • kurisu628

      You probably need to collect a number of specific monsters to "feed" it in order to evolve; otherwise the monster is at its max, and can't be further evolved or leveled up.

    • witedahlia

      Also make sure you have enough money to level it up.

  • http://www.games.99k.org/ games

    great review its a shame the game is a little boring though i found

  • PausAkid

    uhg... all this review/thread did was give me an unquenchable desire to play an english translation of puzzle & dragon -___-

  • Aaron Reibin

    Has anyone else noticed that the game seems to use an extra ordinary amount of Battery?  Play a game and I am down 3 to 5%.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thatblokeoffthetelly.mlad Thatblokeoffthetelly Mlad

    Use invite code C07A0DF for bonuses galore!

Angel Salvation Reviewed by Joseph Leray on . Rating: 4