A Guide to Match 3 Games
What Are Match 3 Games?
Match 3 games are a type of puzzle in which players must match three or more of the same element on the game board. Elements on the board may be swapped with their adjacent neighbor and will disappear if a match of three or more in a row are made. If no match is present, the pieces will snap back to their respective places on the board. Only swapping is possible; no other moves may be performed. Despite the relative simplicity of these gameplay mechanics, match 3 games pose a complex puzzle challenge due to the inherent connectivity of the puzzle as a whole. Each individual move a player makes influences all possible matches on the board thereafter. Players must simultaneously spot both the details and the big picture of the board.
Boosts may typically be bought by players using earned points or created during the round by making unusual matches of four or more elements on the board. These boosts change gameplay significantly, and can also lead to extremely high scores when used properly. Explosives, multipliers and more keep the game changing during the course of a single round.
As matches are made, more items seem to ‘fall’ from the top of the board in order to keep the puzzle filled. Many players use this to their advantage and intentionally make strategic moves in hopes of other matches being made passively as the puzzle pieces settle into the newly empty space on the game board. These chain reactions are called cascades, and they lead to a great deal of points in a typical match 3 game. Speed bonuses are also common, and are often used in order to achieve high scores.
A match 3 round may last until the player has no more moves or until a timer runs out. Both the timed and the normal modes are popular with people on the go, and are commonly found on mobile devices such as phones.
Most match 3 games have little to no storyline whatsoever, but others have successfully incorporated plotlines into the gameplay, adding a fresh new twist to this extensive genre. Power ups and boosts also vary from game to game, further diversifying the gameplay experience from title to title. For match 3 devotees, there is no such thing as too many interpretations of this type of puzzle game.
A Brief History of Match 3 Games
The growth of the match 3 game subgenre is thanks in large part to the explosively popular Bejeweled game series, but Bejeweled was by no means the first in this genre. The first match 3 game is believed to be Shariki, a relatively modest game coded by a Russian programmer named Eugene Alemzhin in 1994. This humble match 3 game was programmed in DOS, and featured none of the stunning visuals that current match 3 games are known for. Shariki was likely heavily influenced by Tetris, which was the first computerized puzzle game to gain mainstream popularity. Six years later, Pop Cap released their own match 3 game titled Diamond Mine, which saw instant success and was later rebranded under the title Bejeweled. The blend of colorful graphics, quality sound effects and addictive gameplay found in Bejeweled set the stage for the match 3 style puzzle to become incredibly popular worldwide.
The commercial success of Bejeweled has spawned a great many other puzzle games, including Jewel Quest and Zuma. Zuma’s game play is a hybrid between Bejeweled and that found in the arcade puzzle game, Puzzle Bobble. Puzzle Bobble, also known as Bust-a-Move, was released in 1994 and also featured animals spitting out colored orbs which could be aimed, fired and matched up on the game board. Luxor was created in 2005 and lacks the animal theme, with the player shooting orbs via a magic Egyptian scarab instead.
Many of the match 3 games featured a rudimentary storyline of sorts, but Puzzle Quest eclipsed the others by adding extensive RPG elements and strategy to basic match 3 game mechanics. The result was an immersive puzzle RPG with difficult quests and competitive head to head match 3 action. Puzzle Quest was a sleeper hit, surprising the gaming industry and garnering positive responses from critics and players alike.
The match 3 subgenre is continuing to grow at a steady rate, meaning that new and creative interpretations of the basic puzzle style will likely continue to be developed in the future.
Who Would Like These Games?
The ideal player for the match 3 genre likes games that are easy to learn yet difficult to master. Match 3 games are fast paced and engaging but also provide ample opportunities for strategizing and improving techniques. Players must be able to shift their focus from looking for individual matches to scanning the board as a whole rapidly, especially in the timed rounds. These puzzles do require some memorization, but that mental list of potential moves must be constantly updated in light of the changes made to the structure of the board as a result of playing the game.
Players must remain flexible while playing games in this genre, because becoming fixated on a potential move will waste valuable mental energy if that play is disturbed during the course of another move, which happens regularly. For example, there may be many blue pieces in an area, but if a move shifted them out of alignment it’s time to look for another move elsewhere. The eye may continue to be drawn to that area of the board because it still has a high concentration of the color blue, but the player must focus on finding other matches instead. It’s simple in theory, but harder in practice.
Traditional modes of Tetris follow a very methodical approach, with blocks of various shapes stacked as perfectly as possible in order to create neat rows. Bejeweled is the exact opposite in many ways, with much of the gameplay determined by chance, such as the location of the puzzle pieces. Players in essence create order from chaos by matching up random puzzle pieces.
Those looking for a game that will fit into their schedule will appreciate the modest time investment that match 3 games require. Players are welcome to play as much or as little as they want depending on their mood or the time available on any given day. In addition, the majority of match 3 games are played by a single player, making them easy to pick up on the fly.