Time Machine: Rogue Pilot|
I keep wondering when the day will come when developers decide that the Match-3 game has reached its saturation point. What started with the modest gem-swapper Bejeweled for the PC and early mobile devices, quickly evolved into mildly complex story-driven puzzle/adventure franchises that go by names like Jewel Quest, Puzzle Quest, 7 Wonders, Cradle of Rome, and the hundreds of other similar titles that emerged as a result of the immense popularity of casual gaming.
Fueled by the staggering use of gaming applications on social media sites Facebook and Google+, and by the one-click low-cost mobile app purchases through Apple’s iTunes, Google’s Android Marketplace, and the Amazon App Store – the Match-3 Puzzle game has become one of the most lucrative genres in casual gaming. It’s no surprise then that developer wants to jump on the Match-3 bandwagon and take a stab at printing cash for themselves. The only question that needs to be answered is how a developer can distinguish his or her Match-3 game in amongst a sea of competition.
Time Machine: Rogue Pilot (for the PSN network) attempts to separate itself from the pack by combining elements of three popular casual games into a single gameplay mechanic. They do so by taking the tried-and-true Match-3 gameplay, adding a hefty dose of gem shooting mechanics as found in PopCap’s runaway hit Zuma, and topping it all off with a complete “hidden object” quest. As it sounds, it seems like it would be a recipe for fun, and it is for the most part – but there are times when Time Machine feels a little too scattered for its own good.
No surprise, Time Machine: Rogue Pilot’s storyline revolves around a scientist’s invention of a working time machine. An evil villain sneaks his way into the time machine with intentions of changing the past. It is up to the scientist’s assistant, lloma takes it upon herself to chase Jack through time and stop him from wreaking pandemonium on the present-day world. During IIoma’s quest to find the elusive Jack, she must power the time machine through by performing the match-3 gameplay. And while Time Machine is basically a clone of Bejeweled, it has one major gameplay mechanic that helps make it unique – rather than simply swapping neighboring tiles back and forth to make matches, Time Machine employs a shooting mechanic in which the player can selectively shoot tiles at the grid to form the matches.
This story-based puzzler segments play out a lot like the Puzzle Quest games that came out before it – in fact, while I definitely had fun grinding my way through Time Machine, I could not shake the nagging memory Puzzle Quest: Galactrix from way back in the summer of 2009. As I played Time Machine, it kept reminding me of how I always intended to go back and finish the Galactrix storyline – and on more than one occasion I was tempted to do just that; skip over to Galactrix for a game or two. Making a gamer want to go back to a competitor’s three-year old game is typically not a good thing for a new release, but in the case of Time Machine it is really a tribute to both titles for their excellent gameplay style.
As mentioned, Time Machine: Rogue Pilot likes to throw in a hidden object level every now and then – but rather than simply list the items that need to be found, the game leaves it up to the gamer to spot the items that do not fit in the given time and setting of the scene – or what the developers call “odd items”. While these levels are definitely not as deep and complex as what we are used to seeing in typical hidden object games, they are a nice change of pack from the tile matching gameplay. Although Time Machine is a fairly static puzzler, the game looks absolutely stunning with lots of high-definition effects and vibrant colors. The sound on the other hand is a little lackluster, but for a simple puzzler like Time Machine, I didn’t really expect much more.
The controls were a little iffy, and throughout the course of the game I could never get over the feeling that the Time Machine’s gameplay would be infinitely better on a touchscreen input as on the Vita. The same can be said for any of these games now that touchscreen input has become so prevalent – and I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more of these titles come out specifically for the Vita simply because people are not going to put up with controller-based input for these games much longer.
All-in-all, Time Machine: Rogue Pilot does exactly what it sets out to do – provide gamers with a unique match-three experience. The shooting-based gameplay definitely adds a new mechanic to the aging genre, and while I was not all that impressed with the hidden-object minigames, they provided a nice change of pace. Do I think it is better than Puzzle Quest, 7 Wonders, or Bejewled? No. But it is a solid puzzler, and with an MSRP of $6.99, gamers can hardly go wrong.