Combo Quest (Free) is a game that infuriates me and tantalizes me simultaneously. Its concept is pretty clever and fun to play with, walking a constant tightrope act to where you have to not screw up in order to succeed against increasingly-steep odds. But the balance of the game’s elements feels out of whack, which I think keeps the game from being great, but causes it to remain endlessly fascinating.
This is sort of a rhythm-action game, where you’re presented with a bar of rectangles, and an indicator that goes across it and back constantly. You’re fighting an enemy, and do damage by hitting the yellow and green rectangles, the green ones doing critical damage. The red blocks slide from right to left, and if they reach the left part of the bar, then you take damage. As such, you’re trying to hit those before they hit you, and trying to defeat each enemy in succession. Each successful hit fills up your combo meter, which can be deployed after at least 5 hits to do an attack that does large amounts of damage based on how many hits it’s charged up with, and your combo power stat.
See, each enemy grants an upgrade, a random choice of three selections from a pool of five increases: Increase max damage, increase minimum damage, increase max health, refill health, and increase the combo damage stat. Each stat increases by a greater amount over time. So there’s a meta-game of how you want to progress: these are all temporary for your current session, as the game does have permadeath, it’s all about making it as far as possible. It really depends on how you want to play the game, and what you think the best strategy is, ideally.
The game is a lot of fun because it’s so tense. Enemies rapidly get stronger, and your ultimate goal is to make as few mistakes as possible. The combo meter makes the selector go faster as it increases, so while you may keep it saved up for doing large damage at once, or to knock back the red blocks in case of emergency, it does come at a cost. Just barely hitting a green block, or a red block before it hits you, is extremely satisfying. I’d love if this game supported portrait mode as well as landscape, because it would be a fantastic one-handed game. But perhaps landscape works great for the focus you need to play this game well, kind of like how it’s easier to get high scores in Crossy Road (Free) with the game in landscape. I’ve sunk a lot of time into this game, trying to do better and better, because I know if I was just a little better, I could do so, so well. It’s that kind of game.
But it’s definitely not a perfect experience. It’s Combo Quests‘s combo meter that is the source of my concern with the game. Damage is done by the number of combo hits multiplied by the combo power that you have. There’s no additional bonus for longer combos, which I think would further incentivize having a huge combo. The additional red block knockback is helpful, but the faster the timing selector goes, the more likely it is that you’re going to miss and lose your combo, and that’s doubly devastating.
As such, I don’t think it’s really worth getting a combo beyond 10x, because the risk becomes too great. It’s very helpful to have a combo meter on standby in case a rapid red block is coming in, because getting hit not only means losing damage, it also means erasing your combo. So having that is helpful, but the punishment for losing a combo is often painful. You’ll lose in those moments you don’t have a combo to stave off red blocks. As well, if you tap on the combo meter when you don’t have any, it counts as a mis-tap and you take damage – this means if it’s a split second between getting hit and hitting the combo meter, it’s often game over. This game is often cruel, but this feels needlessly so with the combo system. Heck, I pretty much just play at this point to max out my damage and practically ignore my health, because I’d rather play in a situation where I have fewer opportunities to screw up than to have a bigger buffer if I do.
And yet, I find myself utterly fascinated by this game despite all its flaws. Sometimes it’s the broken games that can be more fascinating than the well-crafted ones. There’s certainly a joy in a perfect system and exploring its intricacies, but there’s also a fascination with trying to figure out a flawed game, and to try crack its code. That’s me and Combo Quest. I really enjoy the concept, and play it somewhat confused by it, thinking that it could be so much better. Its randomness helps out: the upgrade system can feel unfair at times if you don’t get the right thing that you wanted, but in general, you can upgrade the way that you want to. But it all comes down to “not screwing up" and you’re sometimes going to be fighting the game, and sometimes fate will have bad plans for you. It’s part of the fascination.
There are in-app purchases for additional potion slots, but considering that the potions aren’t of much utility as they do a bit of damage and restore some health based on the blocks on the bar at the time of use, I don’t know what the value is unless you’re a really high-level player. If they could rescue you from death, or if the satchels give you more potions from boss kills than the default one you get, they would be of greater utility. Otherwise, it’s hard to justify buying them, unless you’re regularly making long runs into this game.
But for all the flaws and inconsistencies with this game that I can point out, I struggle to put this one down. The concept is a ton of fun, and there’s definitely some elements of a great game here. Would I rather that everything be perfect and wonderful with Combo Quest? Sure. But dissecting why this game is flawed is interesting enough. I don’t know if I recommend Combo Quest, but I will say that if you do check it out, you’ll probably be fascinated by it and hooked to it like I am.