I have to admit my eyes glazed over a bit when I took my first look at Tomb Breaker (Free) It could probably look more like Bejewled with a little effort, but I’ve had my fill of straight Match-3s and then some. I probably wouldn’t have given it a second look if I hadn’t noticed it was from Kurt Bieg, creator of the delightfully frustrating Circadia (Free). That bit of trivia caught my attention, and I’m glad it did.
Tomb Breaker has promise. It’s clear Bieg’s Simple Machine is catering to a more casual crowd, but it boosts the business of matching gems into something a bit more cerebral than we’ve come to expect.
If you’ve played Bejeweled Blitz, you’ve got the basics of the setup. Tomb Breaker gives you sixty seconds on the clock to pull in the highest score you can, and the option of competing with friends on Game Center. You can use up to three boosts per attempt, paying out of a pool of gems that you can earn or (more likely) buy. It lacks some of Blitz’s more aggressive psychological tricks, but the bones are there.
The matching, on the other hand, is quite different. You can match any identical gems in the same line or column. They don’t need to be adjacent—you can make a trail all the way around the field as long as you can stick to right angles.
You can play just fine like that. You’ll even earn bonuses on occasion when you clear out whole colors with single moves. And then you’ll look at the high scores and wonder where the heck you went so wrong.
Tomb Breaker isn’t a straight Match-3. It’s a puzzle game. You earn a few points for matching, a few more for matching really big combos. If you’re fast and effective, you can do okay by speeding through combos to earn big multipliers. If you’re not setting up crossovers, though, you’ll never make anything of yourself.
Crossovers happen when you manage to drag a line back over itself without running into any other gems on the way. They’re worth an order of magnitude more than any other match. Earning pretty good numbers with that 4x multiplier? Okay, but that means a crossover would be worth 40,000 points. That leaves your other little matches in the dust.
As a result, the game is a tense race to set up crossovers and pull them off—preferably while building up your multiplier by making large, fast matches on the way. If you feel like you’ve wrung every bit of skill out of this genre of game, Tomb Breaker might surprise you. It’s easy to play mindlessly, but not to play well.
It certainly feels like it still needs a bit of love, though. The boosts are far from game-breaking, but they’re also extremely pricey compared to the speed with which gems are handed out. More ways to get gems would be a good start. More ways to play would be even better. There are moments when Tomb Breaker feels like a serious puzzle game, and it sure would be nice to be able to play like that at times without the ever-present tyranny of the timer.
There isn’t much room left for new match 3s, and Tomb Breaker is bound to have a hard time breaking in. Being less manipulative and more challenging than the competition isn’t exactly a winning combo from a financial point of view. It is, however, a great reason to check the game out. If you still have love for this overplayed genre but want to spend a little more time planning than panicking, Tomb Breaker will be worth your while.