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Given the rather obvious angle of the art direction and marketing for this title, you'll have to forgive me for having been skeptical of Spirit Stones [Free]. With top-heavy, scantily-clad women all over the place, it almost appears to be trying to make up for something. What that something might be is still not apparent to me, because this game is a surprisingly good mash-up of Puzzle & Dragons [Free]-style puzzle-RPGing and mobile TCGs. The juvenile character art and evolve-to-strip stuff are not only unnecessary, they're actually a negative point on a pretty good game.

Spirit Stones is a free-to-play game more than a little bit inspired by Puzzle & Dragons. You assemble a team from randomly-drawn character cards and tackle quests made up of mini-battles which are fought by playing a variation on a match-3 puzzle. Along the way, enemies will randomly drop treasure, and if you beat all the battles in a quest, you get to keep everything you've found. If you fail, you lose it all. You can use any extra cards you happen to pull to strengthen your main group or evolve them into new forms using coins earned from defeating foes. The nuts and bolts of the game are certainly nothing unusual.

screen1136x1136-150Most of your stock of characters is going to be made up of lovely ladies, though there are a few token gents and some beasts to mix things up a little bit. If you collect two of the same card, they can be fused to create a stronger form, with its own modified artwork. Typically, the animals change color, the men gain more armor, and the women lose more clothes. Cards can be obtained a number of ways. The most common way you'll receive them is as drops during gameplay. The cards you receive this way seem to be fixed, with particular cards dropping on each stage, and always only once. You can also draw a random "silver" card each day for free, exchange hearts for one earned by adding friends or participating in large-scale battles, or buy one using coins. "Gold" cards, which contain the rarest characters, can only be obtained by exchanging a Random Box occasionally found on boss stages or by using gems, the premium currency of this game.

The meat of the game is in the single-player mode where you play through a very loose story by completing quests. Your party in this mode is limited to four members, and since there are four different groups of characters and four different colors of stones, you have to choose whether to double up on one type of attack at the risk of leaving out another. Like Puzzle & Dragons, if you don't have a character with you that uses that element, making matches with the corresponding type of stone will do no damage. Some bosses take extra damage from particular types of attacks, so it's worth considering a team tilted towards their weakness. More powerful characters can unleash special attacks after certain conditions are met, but generally, a character's usefulness corresponds very closely to how high their attack and HP are.

screen1136x1136-152As mentioned, the actual puzzle gameplay is a variation on match-3. Four different colors of stones fill the field and you have to match three or more of the same color to make an attack with characters of that same color. Special bonus items will sometimes appear, dependent on which types of characters you have in your party. A bomb will detonate all the stones around it, a sword will make a diagonal cut across the field, a bow will launch arrows at random stones, and the potion will restore some health. You can use these items to create combos and even chain them together for some pretty huge attacks.

You can't push stones around the way you can in Puzzle & Dragons, so you're a little bit more at the mercy of luck, but part of the strategy comes with trying to make attacks in a way that sets you up for your next strike. You can choose which of the enemy to target first, and this is also pretty important if you want to survive. As you progress through the game, more special types of stones will appear, some helpful, others harmful, but the core mechanic remains engaging. It's one of the things that makes Puzzle & Dragons as fun as it is while imitators like Pictlogica Final Fantasy [Free] falter, and Spirit Stones nails it.

Another thing it nails is in how generous it is. The difficulty slope is extremely fair, and I haven't hit a point yet in several hours of play where my available characters couldn't possibly win. You're given tons of opportunities to get new cards, even occasionally getting an item to give you a pull at the best cards. The premium currency comes very, very slowly, but virtually everything the premium currency does can be done in other ways, and with a reasonable expenditure of time. Even super-rare cards can be bootstrapped up to using common cards and evolution. The only major thing you can't buy without gems is the ability to continue, but I haven't really had to at this point. While in Puzzle & Dragons drops are random to an extent and limitless, here the drops are easily obtained and quite limited, so it never felt like I was losing out on anything serious by not continuing.

There is, of course, a stamina gauge, and you expend some of it every time you enter a battle, but here again I found it pretty generous. A full stamina gauge is always good for about six or so quests, level ups restore it completely, and it replenishes at a pretty quick rate. You can also refill it using an item that is rewarded occasionally for killing bosses. You also have a separate stamina gauge for battles against other players or tackling the Hellgate, giving you a few other activities to engage in should you exhaust your main stamina. Battles against other players are kind of disappointing, as they just match your team against the other player's, with the outcome determined by sheer numbers with no puzzle gameplay involved. The Hellgate contains extremely powerful monsters that you can work with other players to take down for various rewards.

Friends can be made in-game by entering a friend code or by randomly encountering people during the quests. You can, once per day, pull a friend's party into a boss fight in place of one of your own team members, and by doing so, your friend will receive some hearts that can be exchanged for cards. Since party leaders are usually very powerful, this is a good way to quickly wreck a boss if you're having trouble. Naturally, if your friends make use of your party leader, you'll also receive hearts.

It's just too bad about the presentation. There's a really good game here, if you're into stuff like Puzzle & Dragons, but I suspect the T&A might have turned off a bunch of people here at TA. I know sex sells, but it's kind of an embarrassing thing to have running on your phone if anyone happens to look, and I imagine it's at least a little bit off-putting for female gamers who might otherwise be interested in this game. The actual quality of the card art is great, I'd just prefer if I didn't feel like I was playing Puzzle & Strippers. The battle graphics feature super-deformed versions of the characters, and it's kind of amusing to see how the proportions work out.

If you can look past the art, or better yet, appreciate it, you'll find a pretty fun game here. Yes, it's free to play, it has stamina gauges, cards, and all other sorts of warning signals. I certainly came in with pretty low expectations. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is actually one of the better Puzzle & Dragons-inspired games I've played. It does most of the same things right and adds a few interesting wrinkles of its own. Tit for tat, Spirit Stones isn't quite the same level of quality, but it's certainly good enough and different enough to merit trying out.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • CalebHall1

    This game is addicting

  • Nycteris

    I am a female gamer and this sounds really intriguing.. Until you look at the trashy art. Sigh. Pass.

    • SpacePenguinBot

      Yup. There are so many games that actually put some effort into their art style, but this is typical anime, Count-Boobula style that just smacks of uninspired laziness.

    • jin choung

      agreed. those chicks are d cups at best. wtf? did we lose a war?

    • Cookies

      If that's your problem then I find it hard to believe that you are actually a gamer. I think most people would agree that gameplay significantly outways graphics/style in importance, so if you really can't play it because of a little bustiness, then you clearly aren't that into actually playing it.

      That argument aside, isn't it clear by now that male gamers don't buy games (at least not regularly) just because of the buxom lady on the front cover?

      • Nycteris

        Gamer doesn't mean you play "every game".

      • Cookies

        Correct, but it also means you are actually more interested in the game than the nice packaging.

      • C. Stubb

        A "little" bustiness?

      • Cookies

        I guess it was a "slight" understatement :P

  • Stustaff

    Puzzles AND strippers! Brilliant. :)

    In fact they should have called it that!

  • Pheebers

    I snorted coffee at "tit for tat."

    However, I'm a 40 something soccer mom, not a 13 year old boy. I just say no to boobage with my games, thankyouverymuch.

  • B-Rabbit

    This game really is quite fun to play and though I am a female, I have no problem with this art style. The chibi forms ARE pretty funny . :). The review is pretty spot on, and this is now one of my favorite puzzle TCGs.

  • Ampullaridae

    Ok the predominance of big breasted woman IS somewhat unnerving, yet the game itself is kinda fun. Heres my friendcode, share yours :) F3522687

    • Teyar

      I'm surprised by how much totally legit game there is in here, honestly, and since its in chibi form 90% of the time the art style isnt too heinous. So what the hell - Friend codes ahoy! X2298604

  • CT Eon

    I won't complain about the art style of this game because the intended audience is well...very obvious...but with that said I do think the game is pretty addicting in its own right and while I completely understand those that wishes to give the game a pass due to its choice of art I can only urge them to give the game a go because it really is a lot of fun :3

    As for those who want to give it a try
    Please add D6029065 so we can team up towards more rare cards :D

    • nonstickron

      Y7764754 mine

  • nonstickron

    I guess perhaps I'm more thick skinned than most but I think it's actually the immature people who spend time worrying about things like the G-rated boobs in this. They aren't even drawn that well.

    Anyway, I have tried all the puzzle & dragons clones and I pretty much hate how you match the tiles in those. They would be ok except for the time limit. This is more like Dungeon Raid or WOPR, where you are building chains, and I really like that.

    • Nick

      Wait, why would someone downvote your comment??

      • nonstickron

        Like I said...maturity isn't what some people think it is. Is the person who gets excited in an appreciative way at silly-exaggerated cartoon cleavage any less mature than a person who gets exited in a negative way? I don't think so. That IS what we're talking about here after all. NOT boobs, but cleavage. Whoopidy doo. Have you ever been to the beach? Did you sit there quietly disgusted at all the people in bathing suits? I bet not...you went about your life having a good time at the beach...doing what there is to do. You can do the same thing in this game, if you try and contain your excitement. lol

        And so far, for me, the review for this game is inaccurate concerning evolving cards...None of them have lost any clothes. The outfits do get re-skinned, but they are covering up just as much as they did before. The claims that they become naked as you evolve them appears to me to be a straight up lie. But I've only upgraded each card one level, so maybe I havn't gotten far enough yet to see the truth of it yet. Meh.

        I really was surprised that the review never drew the matching mechanic parallels to the chain matching games that its more closely resembles; games which are highly regarded and far superior to Puzzle & Dragons and it's clones. Perhaps he's never played WOPR, or Puzzle Craft, or Witch Wars, or Bravesmart, or Dungeon Story, or the OG Dungeon Raid. If not, he should. :-D

      • Guest

        Add M1056296 please! I'm actually enjoying this much more than I'd expected to and am looking forward to trying the Hellgate!

  • kioshi

    I downloaded this because boobs. Ended up not really paying much attention to them and loving the sprite art and the gameplay.

  • aconfusedkender

    I actually am enjoying this game. The gameplay is a different with the power ups and whatnot than your typical match 3 type game.
    Try code
    K4346004

  • eluna

    I'll give this game a shot. Please add me with J7039995

  • darkmajin

    OK, add me i'll try this V5768805

  • hvianna

    I can appreciate the art style :P plus, the chibis are really cute and the collecting thing is pretty addicting!

    Please add me! My friend code is: P5109399

  • InkyTheGhost

    This is, without a doubt, the best headline I've ever seen on this site. Amazing.

  • http://about.me/iSpid3r Spid3r

    Best freemium ever :) Recommended.

  • Kajillion123

    FC M7985495
    please add me

  • http://rekzkarz.com/ REkzkaRZ

    Surprised boobs are so disliked in the gamer comments.
    When I choose between mighty muscled Grom (dude) or buxom Sheila (female) on a long solo RPG, I tend to go female, just bc I'd rather look at female buttocks for 80+ hrs...
    I have no prob with sweater puffs, milk bags, magic pillows, pink-nosed puppies, hooters, tweeters, gazongas, melons, bodacious tatas, bouncers, megazords, distractionators, bon bons, eye magnets, chest butts, busoms, or a rack of damn!
    But I don't dload games to see cleavage.
    I dload videos!!!

  • Adsinjapan

    Games with this kind of art style is pretty damned common over here in Japan, so there's very little in the way of embarrassment when playing this in public.
    I've been trying the game out and I have to say the game is pretty damned good. I never got into puzzle&dragons for the sole purpose of its faddishness, but this title seems like it's standing on its own. Plus it's from Gamevil, and I do enjoy their titles.
    Although the the "boobies" are strong with this one, the art quality is good, and Gamevil is only emulating dozens of scantily clad titles that already exist on the Asian AppStore.
    Still worth checking out if you want a good free game.

  • Tonk Montana

    I have given this game the benefit of the doubt and it is actually pretty good. I like the different matching mechanic from P&D and other spawn in this genre.

    Add me (M0024343) as this looks to be a pretty strong social game, particularly with the Hellgate and I need all the help I can get. ;)

    • Teyar

      Yeah theres something equally rad and gutwrenchingly horrible about the idea of raiding from my phone. X2298604 . <.<

  • gabuas

    Add me R3327722

  • GeekOne

    If you can get over the "stripper-evolution" graphics the game itself is one of the least punishing and most fun free-to-play games I've tried.

    p.s. add me when you give it go, thanks Y3812400

  • Lonnlov

    Please add M1056296! I'm actually enjoying this much more than I'd expected to and am looking forward to trying the Hellgate (once I get some in-game friends, that is)!

  • pheh

    Embarrassingly and hopelessly addicted to it.

    Please add: J3396195

  • Celimdor

    It's an effective Time sink ;)
    Add me and hf >>> M2806275

  • popix

    I have space for 23 more friends: add me - K3016291

  • Morgan01

    So tired of these "never ending" " money pit" games. They give little to make you think they are so generous, then you continually work on improving your squads, buying cards for those super rare cards and upgrading, only to find you need still stronger cards, then the mindless cycle continues.....

  • omideus

    Aloha All!

    While I'd rather not have to feel embarrassed to have someone peer over my shoulder to see what I'm playing... This is actually a lot of fun to play when I have a couple of free mins to kill waiting for something.

    If anything, it's now replaced the dreaded Candy Crush app on my second screen.

    Just started, so looking for a few "friends" please! Thanks in advance!

    Z0623954

  • Morgan01

    Allot of server down time due to maintenance

    • Morgan01

      36 hours later and servers still down...

  • kratoswithguns

    Y7257477 if u need a friend

  • Tomochan

    Loving this game. Please add me O3899735 :)

  • TrannyMagic

    ended up telling myself I would just add anyone who put a fc here in the last 20 days and ended up noticing by the end that, that is exactly how long ago the first comment was made lol ~ add moi:
    P0628949
    grazi.

  • naynay209

    Please add me!! P4519252

  • KuRoSaK1

    Add me: G3495890 :)
    Active player here!!

Spirit Stones. Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4