Matchstick Memories achieves something not a lot of other mobile games – especially puzzle games – manage to do. It manages to draw you in.
Not because of its addictive gameplay (although it is fun) and not because of the drive to beat your high score (although you will want to) – but because it has a compelling story that will leave you wondering just what the hell is happening.
Matchstick Memories – developed by Heavy Handed Games and available on iOS devices – is a tile-based puzzle game with elements inspired by classic text adventures. The basic gameplay has you moving tiles around on a gird to match certain colours together, with the ultimate goal of achieving a certain number of tile matches. When one puzzle is completed, the game will move to the next area where a different puzzle will be waiting to be solved. It has a variety of tile puzzles, including its own version of Minesweeper. The level of variety is something to be admired: sometimes the challenge will be to join 3 or more tiles together by drawing a line connecting them all. Other times you’ll need to swap the places of two tiles until you can arrange tiles in a Connect 4-like way. The game has only recently started giving me challenges where you shift the entire row or column by one tile, which creates some very interesting scenarios indeed. It will be interesting to see if it has even more puzzle types that I haven’t come across yet.
What makes the gameplay particularly interesting is that occasionally you’ll be given a challenge, which usually involves 3 different types of puzzles. Once you’ve successfully completed the challenge, you’re rewarded with a matchbox. These matchboxes offer various different abilities such as turning 20 random tiles to a particular color, or completely eliminating a line from the grid, and are available to be used when a certain number of a specific-colored tiles have been collected. This can aid you on missions such as where there is a time limit enforced and you have to make a certain number of tile matches before the timer runs out.
The visual design of Matchstick Memories is good, though nothing too fancy. The uses of different lighting effects add detail to game locations. For example, if you are stood in a shaded wood area then the screen will appear faded, or if you’re stood in an area where there are flashing lights, then the screen will flash at random intervals. All these small details add visual layers to the game that makes it a much more engaging experience than your average tile-based puzzle game. Something that also adds to the feel of the game is the sound design. It won’t blow you away with fully composed symphonies, but subtle sound cues when you connect tiles together and when the level changes are all nice little extras. One sound effect I particularly like happens when multiple tiles are linked together. For each extra tile linked, you will hear a satisfying ping sound which will progressively increase in pitch as more tiles are added to that chain. Not revolutionary, perhaps – but it all adds to a great feeling of satisfaction.
Another interesting element that ties both into the gameplay and the story are the conditions you’re given when presented with a new puzzle. There’re actually multiple ways to advance to the next level, and the way you choose to advance will determine which one you end up on. You might have to match 1 group of 4 red tiles to go to, or 2 groups of 6 green tiles to advance to a different area.
However, I feel that it’s the areas that make this game truly unique. Aside from being a puzzle game, this game is also described as being a “Meta text adventure game” and at the beginning of each area you are given a small portion of text that roughly describes where you are. For example, one level has the text “a pattern of wire and stone. There’s something familiar about this cold shifting section of wall” – and this was just after a sequence where I had to make a certain amount of matches before the timer ran out because I was running from something.
That’s where the beauty of the story lies: Matchstick Memories gives you just enough detail for you to have an idea of what is going on within the game, but also leaves a lot to mystery and your own imagination. You’re left to wonder who this person is: where are they, and what are they running from?
Matchstick Memories offers a refreshing departure from the typical mobile puzzle game that strains your bank balance more than it strains your brain. It presents an engaging experience with both interesting mechanics and a compelling – if vague – story, and it’s sure to keep you entertained when other mobile games have left you feeling disappointed in their lack of depth.