Sunday, April 30, 2023

Monsters & Memories Stress Test Day 2

Yesterday around noon central time the Monsters & Memories Stress Test kicked back up and players were once again allowed in to give the servers a workout and get a sneak peak of what the developers had been working on.  I have to tell you that Day 2 went a lot smoother for me than Day 1!

Whereas I was constantly dying on Day 1 and eternally lost, on Day 2 I was able to memorize my skills, put them on the ability bar, and start to really kill some stuff. Those skills being available made a ton of difference.

Killing skeletons! This is the way!

Not only that but I actually finished my first Beastmaster quest, which was to collect 2 teeth each from rats, bats, and jackals. Once I had all six, then all I had to do was press combine to make a new necklace. Running back to the Beastmaster Trainer and handing it in produced my first magic item, the Beast's Initiate Cord.

My first magic item from the Beast Master Intro Quest

By the end of my play time (before my family ripped me away to have a movie night watching The Amazing Maurice), I had reached level 3, trained up dual wielding, and memorized a spell that would turn me True North. 

I can't tell you how much I wish a Day 3 of Stress Testing was happening so I could go back in and track down the Beastmaster Spell Trainer. I took a screenshot of him because I was sure I would need to reference it again to locate him, but as I was playing, I completely forgot that I had even taken the below screenshot and failed to ever find him again.

LOL! He's clearly standing in Saltwater Park or whatever it's called. DANGIT!

I did have some fun exploring while looking for the spell trainer though and really walked the extents of the sprawling city, even the parts that I was clearly not supposed to be in because none of the buildings were even finished. They were still greyboxed and no NPCs were in sight.

Hello Sunrise! How I missed you! I was awfully lost in the dark for a while.

By the end of my play session I was selling vendor trash to the hidden vendor I found and stashing stuff into my bank. I know it seems weird, but it felt good to be completely confused in "New Everquest" all over again. Gauging from the /ooc chat in game, it appeared I wasn't alone in that feeling either. 

We'll see if I feel the same way come next stress test / pre-Alpha or what have you, but for now, my general feelings are BRING ON MORE MONSTERS & MEMORIES! HUZZAH!

Happy Dueling

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Monsters & Memories Stress Test 1

I've had my eye on Monsters & Memories since it was announced. In fact, I joined their Discord server right away when I heard about it, and then after a month or so, I realized I couldn't keep up with chat and promptly left. This was way back in, what, 2020? 2021?

Anyway, yesterday I caught wind from Shawn Lord's LinkedIn that this weekend they were holding a couple rounds of stress testing, and I decided to download it and give it a shot. (I used to work with Shawn back at KingsIsle.) 

Of course there were all kinds of padded warnings that came along with their stress test:

"PLEASE NOTE: By registering for, downloading, or logging into Monsters & Memories, you acknowledge your understanding that this is a technical "stress test" of an early development build and not a pre-alpha, alpha, beta, or any other form of test indicative of the game being in a ready-for-release state."

There was even more padding after you installed about the state of the game being buggy and not ready for prime time, BUT there was no NDA or any kind of gag order. In fact, there were people Twitch streaming their gameplay last night.

Oogaooga the Ogre Beastmaster

The game in its current state feels very much like a love letter to Everquest and classic MMOs, and it was every bit as confusing as that first time you logged into Everquest and had to kind of figure out what it was you were doing. At the same time "/attack" worked just fine . . . so it felt instantly familiar.

Of course I got my butt handed to me by a beetle the first time I tried slash attack

The real fun of the game didn't seem to be attacking things right at first anyway. The city behind the gates you spawn at was sprawling and impressive in its size and maze-like qualities.  Just like in Everquest, this was a city you could get lost in.

Looking out upon half of the city late at night from up on a ledge

Eventually the server I was on crashed out, and I had to hop on a second server and try again. While I was there, I finally figured out how to scribe my spells into my spellbook, but I couldn't quite figure out how to then transfer my spellbook spells over to my ability slots to cast them. I wandered the city a bit with my new Gnome Beastmaster and then logged out for the night. 

Somewhere in here, there's a quest giver waiting for me to put a note in his inventory box

I'm glad I was able to add my bandwidth to the stress test. There's another stress test for a few hours this afternoon as well, so I may jump on again. Either way, it was interesting to see so many people there pining for the old days in Everquest to be new again. Can't wait to see where Monsters and Memories is a couple years from now.

Happy Dueling!

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Jenga Meets VR Match-3 in Jentrix!

Ahhh, so you're up to your old tricks, eh?  But are you up to your old, Jentrix though!? No? Don't even know what the heck I'm talking about!? Well, I can't blame you!

I'm here writing what is possibly my last review (at least for now) in a series of Match-3 VR game reviews.  Yeah, there's one or two more games I could write about that technically fall in the Match-3 genre, and who knows what's yet to come in this crazy subgenre . . . but I've reached the end of my original list of Match-3 VR games I wanted to check out. 

And how do I end this series of reviews? With a crazy game that's a mad mixup of Jenga and Match-3 in a VR game that has some good ol' goofy physics fun! It's Jentrix! Check it out:

Jentrix is an $8 game on Steam with a "coming soon" store front message on Oculus. Unfortunately at the time of writing, it doesn't appear this game is included with Steam's Puzzlefest going on right now. I'd say the price is still right on the money for the experience. Even better, apparently they just added multiplayer to the game?  I've yet to try it out! I bet you it's a lot of fun.

Time to get your Berries, Bananas, and Peas in a row

So in Jentrix you slide elongated fruits out from a Jenga-like stack of elongated fruits and try to match up three of a kind. You gotta be careful though since the slightest upward or downward pull can send your whole stack of fruits tumbling. To make matters more frantic, you have pieces that are actually mini-crocodiles, birds that somehow freeze your pieces in blocks of ice (don't ask me, I can't explain it), and a timer that spits out pieces to the top of the stack every few seconds. If your fruits fall on the floor, you have a limited time to pick it up. Let too many fruits fall on the floor and it's game over.

Still lots of progress to make on the Jentrix campaign map!

The game has 20 achievements, and a good majority of them have to do with progression along the campaign map or with achieving high scores in arcade mode. So far in campaign mode, it seems like it's all about reaching point goals. When you achieve a certain score for the level, you win and progress to the next node of the map. It feels like I'm about 1/4th of the way in currently and I'm not sure what new mechanics they'll throw at me as I progress or if it will be just turning up of the five difficulty knobs they seem to have:

1- pieces fall in a faster cadence
2- new and different pieces
3- more and faster freezing birds
4- increased point goal markers
5- fewer allowed mistakes

I'm kind of excited to see what else they've got!

Giving a frozen strawberry smackdown to a red bird

This game isn't really meant to be played sitting down. You've gotta stand up to get all these angles. You'll also be doing a lot of toe touches as you bend down to pick up fallen pieces. So for a puzzle game, there's actually a lot of physical movement you need to do to play Jentrix.

I think my favorite part of this game isn't necessarily its gameplay, but rather its colorful skin and humorous physics fun. It's fun to grab these fruits and slot them in to the puzzle.  It's also pretty funny when you just spill the whole tower and wait to start over. That said, they've somehow allowed for a certain amount of leniency with the game's physics and made a pretty great system in what seems an impossible scenario of stacking.

Happy Dueling!

Monday, April 24, 2023

Rainbow Reactor Fusion, A Futuristic Match-3 VR Game

Back over to the Quest 2 today, and I think I've discovered a pretty cool VR Match-3 game that might just be my favorite of the bunch yet! 

Rainbow Reactor Fusion comes in at a little bit of a higher price point at $15, but I'm finding it absolutely worth it. At first I thought this game was only available through the Sidequest, but their Sidequest link led right to the Oculus store. Unfortunately this game isn't yet available on Steam, but it says it's coming soon. Check it out!

At its heart, Rainbow Reactor Fusion is basically a VR version of a carnival ball toss game. Balls of paint roll down at you from ramps that are to the right and left of you, and you have to grab them and toss them on to the game field. When you toss a ball in a spot where it touches 3 or more colors, all those colors are removed and you score points. Throw a ball out of bounds, and you'll earn a strike. Three strikes and it's game over.

To make the game more interesting, they've also made it where you can fuse colored balls together to create one ball of a different color. The fusion doesn't really work in true color wheel fashion, but once you start fusing colors, you start to get the hang of it.

Red and Green make Yellow, Yellow and Teal make Green, Green and Blue make Teal, etc.

Now, if this game was just what was stated above, it probably wouldn't be worth $15.  What makes this game worth more is the factory-wide restoration/puzzle-solving story game you undertake while playing the above game . . . and its charm. Yup, this game is also oozing with fun Portal 2-esque character charm while solving the factory's mystery.

At the start of the game you find yourself standing in an elevator, watching a black and white video of one Alfred Luzan von Hoffenhasselbrock as he breaks down the history of the Rainbow Reactor Factory and how it all works.  Once the tutorial video is over, you're introduced to a little robot buddy named Dottie. Dottie guides you in restoration efforts from this point forward.

Dottie welcoming me back to the Rainbow Reactor Factory

Over time you'll purchase an axe, a wrench, a brush, and other tools from an in-game shop. These all help unravel the mystery of the factory. All the while you'll be playing the Rainbow Reactor Fusion Match-3 game as part of it all.

I haven't yet made it to the end of the game, but it is getting more challenging the further up the factory I go. Multiple colors on the board make the game interesting and the speed at which the color fusion paint balls start coming toward you also raise the challenge. 

The game itself makes really good use of VR as a medium for the match-3 game and it is a very physical experience. The UIs bend around transparent screens and look like they are a part of the world.

Notice how the game UI makes sense in the world and doesn't look slapped on the screen?

Overall, this is just a really well put together game. I'm happy to have discovered it in my hunt of VR Match-3 games.

Happy Dueling!

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Button Bombers, a creative match-3 VR mashup

For anyone that owns a Quest 2 headset (affordable VR woot), I'm not sure how many know they can unlock the immense library of Sidequest games that you can play from little known developers. Just think of Sidequest as the Roblox of VR development.

To actually make your way on to the Oculus Store as a legit game, you have to undergo a certification QA process that seems to stop many in their tracks. That's where Sidequest comes in. People can load their un-QA'd games up to a third-party download site like, make a trailer, set a price, and BAM . . . you're a VR developer.

On the other end, as a player you have to configure your Quest 2 in a certain way to play these games, but it's not rocket science, just follow the tutorial.

The reason why this review has all this padding is because I'm starting to exhaust the library of VR Match-3 games that are out there and today's game comes from Sidequest.

Button bombers!  It's a VR Match-3 Demo from a fella named Andrew Stout. He's actually put quite a bit of work into this demo and it plays really well. Check it out:

The style of match 3 found in Button Bombers is the upward elevating style. The game that instantly comes to mind for me was Wizard101's Wizardblox since I played so much of that game. (Wizardblox wasn't the only match 3 that used this technique -- just the first that came to mind). Basically, you start with a board that is 2/3rds full and new matching pieces come from the bottom of the board as they slowly rise upward.  If an object on the gameboard hits the top, then it's game over.

Besides the basics, what Button Bombers has going for it is creative flair. On the "Button" side of the "Button bombers" equation are a ton of sewing puns and head nods.  Your match pieces are buttons, your training grounds are a "sewing dojo" (although I think he should have just gone with "Sewjo") that's decorated with needles and scissors. 

Even the volume controls are on zippers in the options menu

The game pieces have sewing themed mechanics to them. Your buttons can get "pinned," and you have to make matches with them to unpin them. Your buttons can be stitched together, and you have to make a match underneath them to break the stitching. Your buttons can instead be "snaps" that act as bombs. It's a sewing themed match 3.  

there's a lot of mechanics going on here . . .

ON the "Bombers" side of the "Button bombers" equation are a ton of warfare puns and head nods. Your match 3 games are 1v1 battles against AI. When you or the AI make large matches, you throw bombs, bricks, and torpedoes on to the other player's game board. You travel a war map defeating opponent after opponent. Your opponents are on a sewn together ship that you're trying to sink with cannon fire from your ship.

On a ship, looking at a battle map, ready to bomb some buttons!

So not only are you creatively meshing VR and match-3, but you're also meshing sewing with warfare. It's a combination that makes absolutely no sense, but somehow works at the same time.

In addition there's a strange dialog system mechanic that probably has some future meaning to it where you can earn +1 scores to traits that don't currently do anything. Add a +1 to my confusion! Where was he going with this system? Will we ever know?!

At the end of the day here. Yeah. I don't really want to offer criticism of this project. It's a free demo. It's a single dev. It's something where you can tell a lot of heart and thought was put into the project -- probably a lot more than some of the other VR Match-3 games I've been playing

I hope he finishes it because I had fun playing it. If he ever happens to read this post, here's me wishing you the best of luck! Thanks for adding to the VR Match-3 genre.

Happy Dueling!

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Match it! A Simple and Surprising VR Matching Game

Not going to lie, I'm kind of excited to show off today's matching game. The past few days I've been doing a few reviews on match-3 VR games, and in my search for games I stumbled upon "Match It!", which is a colors and numbers matching game.  The best part of Match It! is that it's absolutely free, so there's absolutely no buyers remorse at all.

Now, just to be fair to the Match-3 VR genre, this isn't a match-3, but it is a match 2. I had "match 3" so firmly embedded in my mind that as I started to play this game I was grabbing hexes and trying to drop them on top of other hexes. It didn't work. You need to use both hands to play . . . like so:

There's zero instructions on this game, but after experimenting a bit, I quickly came to find out that you can do this one of two ways, either by simultaneously clicking on matching hexes or by grabbing one hex and holding it with one hand and clicking on the matching hex with another hand . . . the latter being more effective with larger boards, but the former being more of a mental workout and faster on smaller boards.

What's genius about this game is the tension they're able to bring into it by making the leaderboards an active part in gameplay.

As you begin clicking and playing, you're elevated up between a cube of skyscrapers. You have this feeling of being ON TOP of the world as you start clicking and begin your game.  Then you begin your descent as you slowly drop a step each time a faster past leaderboard entry is reached. For some reason, feeling your descent in VR while simultaneously hearing a descension note as you drop a place on the leaderboard is absolutely genius. It gives this really nice competitive tension to the game and makes it an experience I hadn't yet felt in VR. 

I need more copycat games that use this tension, please!

There's actually a leaderboard for each variation of match it game. These leaderboards certainly don't feel faked if they are.  If you happen to download it and see "It Stings" with a time of 8.64 seconds or better on the default numbers, 4-color, 32 blocks game . . . let me know!


I found the REAL fun of this game was the numbers, 8-color, 128 blocks game. Awesome and such a workout as you spin around trying to find a random number between 1 and 64.

So there's not much to this game and it's very simple. It's all it needs to be, and it's 100 percent free. No complaints from me.  If you're looking for a great intro to VR matching game experience, Match It! appears to be a great starter game.

Happy Dueling!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Cutting the Cubes in Quest for Runia, Match-3 VR

Yup, it’s that time! Time to match another group of colored things together in a VR Match 3 game. Who doesn’t love matching things together? Who cares if they’re cubes, not gems?! Quest for Runia doesn’t care!

Quest for Runia is actually a pretty good bargain for the size of game it is at $5 on Steam. It has an astounding 27 achievements, at least 7 environments (maybe more?!), and some zen-like play that’s only moderately difficult at times. 

Ok, here’s the whole shtick with Quest for Runia. Basically, you have a big staff in one hand. You use this staff to shoot out a colored cube that snaps to other colored cubes in a color cube puzzle. If you match at least 3 colors together, then all the matching colors that are touching sides will be stripped away.  The object, remove ALL the colored cubes on the playing field. If you are super efficient, you’ll 3 star that puzzle. If you’re mildly efficient, you’ll 2 star it. If you are just kinda clicking things, you’ll either 1 star or fail the level. Fail the level, and you have to try again.

A beginner intro puzzle in Quest for Runia

While this is 3D space in VR, the puzzle stays in front of your field of view for the most part, and you don’t need to move around much at all. Save for the boss levels, where the big bad of the story, Karos the magician, puts you in a color cube prison, and you have to make matches to get out.

Don't let the evil Karos fool you, He is way more diabolical than Orco from He-man!

Environments are set up as kind of floating islands, and as you beat one puzzle, you progress to a different location on the island until you beat all the puzzles in the environment. As any level designer for match 3 games can tell you, one of the best moments in crafting a level is when you get to shape it like something.  The most common being “the heart” shape, for example. You can tell the level designer in Quest for Runia had a lot of fun making these tear-away matching puzzles. Sometimes the puzzle would look like a cauldron or a ship or what-have-you. Kind of cool! Most of the time it was just a mess of colors in big cube shapes with plenty of holes in the middle. 

Check it out!

Now it’s time for all my complaints. I’m sorry! Yeesh, me and my complaints! Only a couple here:

The big complaint – there is nothing more frustrating than when you want to place a cube somewhere in this game, and the slightest movement of your hand while you click your trigger button to place it, somehow makes a cube end up somewhere else besides where you intended it. 

It’s hard to explain it, but here’s the scenario: say you wanted to put a blue cube on the top of another blue cube to connect two rows of blue cubes together, thus removing both rows of blue cubes with one click. BUT, if you ever so slightly move your hand down a touch when you’re clicking to place your cube, then BAM . . . aww crap, I placed the blue cube on the FRONT of a cube instead of the TOP and then only end up removing one of the two rows. (You can actually see something like that happen at the 1:41 mark in the video above)

For a zen-like game, having any moments of frustration is a big turn off. I’ve been kind of wracking my brain thinking, hmmm, if this was my game how would I do that differently.  I think it comes down to the controls they give you.  The only method for alleviating this is to “spin” the 3D structure of cubes around by pressing a button and hoping for a good angle as the puzzle shifts in 90 degree increments. In a perfect world, I’d change this so that I could grow or shrink a puzzle through pinch and pull movements and allow the player to drag themselves around the puzzle instead of always having it stuck in front of me. If I could get INTO the puzzle’s nooks and crannies, I’d be a match-happy friendly necromancer. I suppose that could be considered just part of the challenge, but . . . really? I don't think so.

Next big complaint – VR is a tricky medium to work in when it comes to UI. A player’s immersion gets really killed by floating UI elements. It’s like, you have this low-poly charming world around you in Quest for Runia, but it’s kind of ruined by this slapped on UI that floats at the bottom of the puzzle area. It’s a real challenge to incorporate UI into the environment so it feels more natural. I don’t know how I would have done it differently, but just know there’s kind of a UX no-no going on here. Not to mention the UI icons look like temp art, but then again, the game is $5, so you get what you pay for, right?

Anyway, those things aside, this isn’t a bad game. You progress through worlds filled with puzzles getting some light story with a little zen-like match 3 that has an occasional point of frustration because of controls. Ok. It’s better than a lot of these other Match 3 VR games I’ve played, so there you go!

Happy Dueling

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Fatal Gem, A Match-3 VR Game Where, Um, You Die

You know, when you strap on a VR headset for the first time, you’re going to want to play one of the classics: Beatsaber, Space Pirate Trainer, Astrobot, Gorilla Tag, Lucky’s Tale, Half-Life Alyx (which I still need to play btw . . . it’s in my backlog), etc. The last thing you think of playing is a match 3 game in VR, but here we are . . . reading all about them on The Friendly Necromancer blog of all places. Yup.

And I have to say . . . you know that feeling when you’re playing a game and you feel like . . . so this is what we’ve come to.  Well thankfully, Fatal Gem won’t be the last game I ever play. We’re just gonna put that $3 price tag down to a fun experiment.  You know, like buying a six-pack of RC Cola because you forgot what it tasted like.

Nice run-on sentence, Fatal Gem!

That’s right! Fatal Gem is a VR Match 3 game on Steam for the low price of $3 and a little bit of your dignity. Right off the bat when you find yourself in darkness trying to grab a pickaxe reading some hacked together English, you know things are gonna be a bit dicey.

Fatal Gem is traditional match 3, but since it’s in VR, the playing field wraps all the way around you, and I gotta give it up to this game for that mere fact.  If you’ve ever wondered what it would feel like to be completely surrounded by match 3 gems, this is your game.  You get 3 levels of timed-point-gathering play, and that’s it. The crazy thing is, either way, you’re going to blow up.  Victory or Defeat . . . it’s all the same in Fatal Gem, the only thing that really matters is your score at the very end of the game.

Surrounded in Gems!

Do I have complaints about this game, yeah, I mean besides the obvious lack of content and re-playability, um, of course I do.

My main complaint is this: I don’t like that the game makes me wait to make matches until the cascades of gems have finished, especially when the game is pitting you against a timer. This is especially bad in a 3D space because while the game is cascading in front of you, you should be able to be making matches behind you or to the sides of you. It’s a match 3 philosophy that every match 3 developer has to make.  Do I lock the board during cascading, or do I come up with a tech solution to allow players to make matches during cascading? It’s not a bad thing that boards are locked, if it makes sense for the game you’re building. For instance, I absolutely loved the match 3 gameplay in Gems of War. Gems of War, locked the board during cascading, and that was fine for that game.  On Animal Cove, we didn’t lock the board, and it made timed levels play a whole heck of a lot better. Fatal Gem is a timed level experience . . . you see what I’m throwing down here?

Next complaint, the controls are a little weird. Sometimes gems would just shift on their own if I was clicking the trigger button too much during a gem cascade. I had to slow down and wait for the gems to settle before trying to make a match, otherwise gems would just seem to shift on their own after the cascade.

There was really only one power up, an AOE explosion gem, and I have to say it was super disappointing that there wasn’t a horizontal line clear ability. It would have been so cool in a board that wraps all the way around you to have a line clear shift all the gems.

My final complaint is just polish notes. If I win the game, let me be dragged up into the UFO as a victory sequence. Don’t blow me up.  If I do blow up, just polish what that looks like so it doesn’t feel so unfinished.  That’s all.  Just put a little extra love into your craft and art.  It would be appreciated.

I won your game! Take me with you!

So, while Fatal Gem may not be the best VR Match 3 experience out there, I have to hand it to them for surrounding me in gems. It’s a fun use of Virtual space. Outside of that, man, polish the game a bit and you could have some potential.  As it is now, this feels like buying a six-pack of RC Cola and remembering why you didn’t like it. 

Happy Dueling!

Monday, April 17, 2023

Gem Jam, Pirate-themed Match 3 meets Tetris in VR

I’m continuing a play through of the most bizarre mashup out there, VR and Match 3, and I’m here to break it all down for you. It’s the play-by-play that no one asked for that I’m freely giving!

Next up is a game called “Gem Jam.” What does Gem Jam have going for it? I’ll tell ya! A skeleton NPC with bad voice over and some fantastic alliteration in its name! Let’s take a closer look at what we’ve got here:

It's a cursed pirate skeleton and his match 3 booty!

This game is technically match 3 because, sure enough, you match same colored gems, but in actuality this game is more of a combination of Tetris and Match 3 than perhaps a Match 3 purist might be looking for. There are five game modes, but it’s pretty much the same game with only slightly different rulesets.

What I mean by that is “Skeleton Square” is the base game, where a pattern of gems in a 3x3 pattern fall slowly down to the top of a treasure chest full of gold. As you match 3 or more gems, those gems are removed from the playing field. Over time, the game board gets smaller, so while your game field starts out as 9x9, eventually it can tighten down to a 6x6 and things get really hairy. Each level of the game you must lay down around 20 patterns of gems to progress to the next level. When you try to put down gems on top of existing gems, the treasure chest begins to close. When the treasure chest fully closes, it’s game over.

What treasure chest is complete without some gems on top of the gold?

Compare that to the “Big Booty” mode (LOL pirate humor) where all the base game rules apply, but there’s now a timer visible for when the game board shrinks, and making larger matches of gems buys you a bit more time before said game board shrinks . . . or to the “Pirate’s Zen” mode where it’s just free play with no shrinking game field or descending gems.

It’s . . . probably not worth $10.  That said, it’s pirate themed!  When something is pirate themed, it already gets a plus one in my book! Now, despite it not being worth the price tag, it is playable, and there is fun to be found here!  That said, I'm sorry, but I’ve got several complaints.

My number one complaint about this game is the game board that you make matches on is at a downward looking angle. In VR, where you have a headset on, already putting weight on your neck, looking down for an extended period of time can be super painful. If you’re going to put your game board in that position, you absolutely need to implement “The Demeo solution.” 

What I mean by that is, Demeo is currently the number one strategy board game experience in VR. It’s an absolutely amazing game. However, the game board is looking down. To counteract that, they implemented a way to tilt the entire game board upward so you can pull your head up and look straight forward with a downward view of the game. It’s a comfort feature that’s 100 percent necessary. It would help with making Gem Jam a better game experience.

Next complaint, the leaderboards are faked. Unfortunately in Gem Jam, my name doesn’t show up on the leaderboards, and my scores get reset. If the leaderboards were real and used my oculus handle, then I’d give this game a few extra bucks in my value rating.

Uh, I guess I'm 4th place on the fake leaderboards?

Next complaint, it’s really too bad about this voice over quality of the skeleton NPC . . . because it’s one of the most entertaining parts of this experience. He talks about how he’s cursed to live in this cave forever because of a sea witch's curse. He committed suicide from playing the game to a point of frustration and now he’s counting on you to beat the game so he can be free. I wish the creator (or whomever did the VO for him) would have invested in a quality mic and some nice sound mixing. Our skeleton doesn’t sound like he’s in a cave, and the spooky factor of the skeleton's voice is a zero.  Ahh well.

Fourth major complaint, why is the back of this cave environment so lame!

I really wish this game could have used the VR space better. It feels like the same gameplay could have happened in a different medium, like mobile? If you're going to make a VR Match-3 game, use the VR space as much as you can. Then again, Congrats to Captain Booty for capitalizing on a competitive market space where there isn’t much competition to be had.  You got my $10.

Happy Dueling!

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Magical Journey, An Absolutely Charming VR Match 3 Game

Hello readers! I’m continuing my look at the strangest genre out there, VR Match 3 games! Hope you enjoyed learning about Gem Monster the other day as much as I enjoyed writing about it.

Today I’m going to take you on a magical journey through a VR Match 3 game known as Magical Journey!

Yup, we got it.  Swap gems, make matches, win stars

This game comes in as one of the more expensive entries at $15, which when you think about it, really isn't all that expensive . . . on the other hand, mobile gamers who are inundated with match 3 games for free might find that a bit spendy, I guess?

This one is also a very traditional match 3 game and requires almost zero movement in a 3D space to play. I suppose if you have trouble with motion sickness, this is the VR game for you!  The most you'll be doing for movement is turning around in a circle to view the environment around you.

Controls are also incredibly simple. Just grab a gem and move it up, down, left, or right to make a match of 3 runes or more. 

At first I was a little nervous that I had just overpaid for a really lame match 3 VR game, but after working past the initial tutorial levels, what I found was all the interesting mechanics one would want from a match 3 game: special pieces you match next to, special board mechanics that make the game slightly different, and varied objectives to keep the game interesting.

Nice! A board split in two with different objectives for each side!

I would be remiss to not give the music in this game a special mention. It has absolutely no business being as awesome as it is. After I'm done playing the 48 levels found in this game, I would want to come replay a few of them just to hear the music.  Please understand that the higher price point on this game is worth it for the music alone. In the words of Larry David, “It’s pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty great.”

To sum up this game, it would be to say that there are four main environments with 12 levels each:

  • The Magical Night environment
  • The Halloween environment
  • The Christmas environment
  • The Volcano environment

I suppose you could call the Halloween environment a "spooky" environment, but the jack o lanterns and wandering tree stump character make it feel more Halloween. In the same breath, you could also call the Christmas environment the "winter" environment, but that would do no justice to the final Christmas Tree levels and snowman inside the winter environment.

Speaking of the Christmas Tree levels . . . the final board of each environment features a special, unique "boss" type mechanic that's the star of the show. The Halloween level has a spider that jumps up off of the board and slams back down in various locations and you need to make matches next to it to defeat it. The Christmas Tree levels has an actual Christmas tree in the environment that you decorate by making matches with ornaments that a snowman throws on to the board. When you make a match, the ornament floats over to the tree to decorate it.  It's genius!

Decorate the tree with ornaments from the match 3 board! Fantastic!

I want a VR Match 3 game where the philosophy of those two boss levels is carried throughout the ENTIRE game, not just the penultimate and final levels.  Traditional match 3 is fine, but if you're in a VR space, USE the space like the Christmas Tree level.

Just a couple side notes:

1- Not necessarily game related, but what's up with the developer for this game? The name of the developer is, get this, "Techservice Center, LLC." Which I think is actually an IT recycling company? I don't know who I gave my $15 to, but it was well spent. I really wish I knew who it was that composed the music, because they did a great job with it.

2- Game related, I have no idea what 3-staring a level does for me . . . what I really hope is that there's an easter egg that unlocks more content if I 3-star all the levels, but I kind of doubt that is the case. Because of that, the 3-star mechanic makes no sense. There's no purpose to having this star rating system if it doesn't do anything.

All in all, if you like match 3 and VR, this is a great option . . . probably the best option out there, but I can't say that quite yet since I have several more VR Match 3 games to review!  

Happy Dueling!

Friday, April 14, 2023

Defeating the Gem Monster!

Hello readers of the Friendly Necromancer blog. I have embraced my truth this week, and that is the truth found in the-matching-of-the-gems. Ye’ old match 3, but with a fantastically weird new twist . . .

So after receiving a most kind letter of a very fine developer with a very fine match 3 dungeon game, I thought to myself, "Self, you know what, let’s do some more good in the world today. FOR NO ONE IS REVIEWING THE WEIRDEST OF GENRE MASH UPS! Match 3 and VR." 

You heard me, match 3 VR games! Can you believe such a genre exists?  Who-woulda-thunk-it?  Well let me tell you, kind reader, it’s a wide open field out there currently as far as competition goes.  Until Candy Crush decides to take over the metaverse, it’s left up to the little guys to make match 3 games in VR! Over the next few posts, I'm going to see how they’ve done so far. 

Up first is this little beast known as Gem Monster.

Coming in at $3 on the Oculus Rift store and Steam, Gem Monster is a panic-driven matching game that marries a health bar, power ups, mecha-monsters covered in undulating gems in a 3D space, and tearing said monsters apart in pairs of 2. Check it out!

So, to explain it fully. You, the hero, are standing on a giant gem/teleport pad floating in 3D space. This giant gem has a color.  Other giant and different colored gems are scattered around the 3D space. You can teleport between these giant gems freely. This is important for two reasons: 

    1. You can escape the gem monster’s attacks by teleporting to another gem
    2. If you match two gems on the monster that match the color of the gem you’re standing on, it powers up your selected skill. 

Of course, you can stand on any color of gem, and matching two gems of the same color will still work, it’s just more efficient if, when you match two gems, you’re standing on a gem of the same color.

Sound confusing? Well, try doing all that while a giant gem monster is shooting guided missiles and laser beams at you!  That’s right, this isn’t your grandma’s match 3, this is your crazy uncle’s match 3 . . . in VR!

 Matching is done through point and click with a targeting reticle at the point where you are looking directly at. Not much movement is required in this game aside from slight head movements and a lot of turning around in 360.  If you use a link cable to connect to your PC like I do, spinning around in a chair just doesn’t work well because your cord will continually wrap around your chair until you’re a tangled mess.  I prefer standing up while playing Gem Monster.

The game’s UI is a little glued to your field of view, but for some reason it doesn’t bother me much while playing.   

It's a 3-star win every time! By the way "restart" means, return to the game selection screen.

Gem Monster is an older VR game from all the way back in the days of 2016, but I’ll be darned if these “keg game” developers didn’t deliver a great, action packed match 3 VR mash up! I'd link you to a company page, but it looks like keggame dot com doesn't exist anymore. 

There’s 20+ levels with 3 grades of difficulty each. It’s a little more exhausting than your traditional Match 3, so I had to take the game in spurts of about 4-5 levels at a time before needing a break.

Beat levels to unlock more levels! You got this!

As far as cons of this game, I'm going to give you a few opinions:

  1. This was a bit of nightmare fuel -- literally. I spent a couple hours last night matching gems in my head over and over. It was awful.
  2. The UI for this game is so ugly. It really lacked polish.
  3. This really isn't a traditional Match 3 . . . very creative, but not what I'd expect your average Match 3 player to enjoy
  4. Slightly confusing controls for using power ups, but I honestly don't know how I'd suggest it be done differently.
  5. It had a 3-star rating system for each level and you earned 3 stars no matter what . . . every time.  I don't get it.
  6. You know what would make this game better?  Multiplayer. Now, actually finding another person in the world to play this with you would be next to impossible and mitigating server costs with a $3 price point would be insane. So, let's forget I mentioned multiplayer as a con.

So there you go. I’ll be doing more match 3 VR game reviews over the coming weeks. Why? Who else is going to review this stuff if not for the Friendly Necromancer?!

You got a crazy match 3 VR game? Send it my way! I’d love to give it a shot.

 Happy Dueling

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Thank You, Readers!

I just wanted you all to know that I've had a few really amazing e-mails and DMs lately that have been really heartwarming to read. I've been running the Friendly Necromancer blog here for 15 years now, and a lot has changed over that time! What remains true is that you never know who's been reading and what they've been feeling.

For the most part I've tried to be a positive force for not often heard voices, and while times have changed and "The Blog" may not be the richest and most powerful medium out there these days, I can't deny that people still visit and read blogs! Things that we write and say, matter.

I will say that, look, I've thought about closing down this blog twice yearly . . . at least! Times have changed, posts are old, and sometimes I feel like I could do better focusing my efforts somewhere else. So, believe me when I say these thank you notes I've recently received made me happy I've kept things going around here.

The first note came from an old reader who used to call himself Talon Nightshade. Talon himself, although pretty young at the time, ran a blog called "A Pyromancer's Say" and used to comment here all the time with the catch phrase "THE FRIENDLY NECROMANCER ROCKS". 

Talon is all grown up now! I think he might be the only person that ever read my Wizard101 fan fiction. We did good, Team 2009! We did good.

The second note came from another old reader who went by Mike. Mike also was pretty young at the time and ran a blog called "Necromancer101".

"Hi! I know you don't remember me, but I remember you.

When I was 11 years old, I signed up for the Wizard101 beta through a TV commercial.

Through my childhood, and most of my teenage years, Wizard101 was MY LIFE. I made friends, I made memories, and it is the quintessential piece of nostalgic media I have. I spent months worth of hours playing that game.

I recently logged on for the first time in probably half a decade, and It brought back so many happy memories, I was crying by the end of my reunion tour. I'm going to start a new wizard and do it all over again because of it.

I am a 26 year old adult now. I work full time in EMS, I have a long term partner, and Wizard101 hadn't really crossed my mind in a while, until today.

I am writing to let you know how big of an influence you had on my life as a kid. And hopefully bring you a smile.

I remember rushing home after school or church, and checking your blog to see if you replied to my question (on more than one occasion). I was a kid, and asked some pretty dumb questions haha. I remember once asking "why can't we fly up?" Like I saw you could do in WoW. Given the limitations of the engine, its a pretty easy answer. It could have easily been ignored. But reading your reply made my heart race and my world light up. Those memories were so happy, and so strong, it still makes me smile today.

You were like a celebrity to my little brain. A role model, and an idol. I wanted to be like you so bad, I made my own wizard101 blogspot (Necromancer 101, hosted by my in game name "Mike'). I took hundreds of screenshots and spent countless hours on this blog, with the hope of getting into your side bar of highlighted blogs. And again, I was literally jumping with joy and pride when you added it.

The blog was pretty horrible in comparison to other gaming blogs, and you probably knew that. But you included me anyway. These are incredible, core memories I have. You have touched my life in some deep, wholesome ways, and I just thought you should know.
I couldn't have been the only kid/teen you inspired like that, so I hope you know you've made the world a better place with your blog.

It's awesome to see it's still up, and I hope you're doing well. KI should hire you (if they haven't already!)

Feel free to pass this on to anyone you like, if you want to.

So I'm extending a deep, heartfelt thank you. To you personally. My life and childhood was made better because of your work. Keep on making kids smile, you're doing an awesome job."

I mean . . . is that the sweetest thing you've ever read? It is to me. 

The third note came from a three-person developer team named Starstruck Games. They're making a match 3 roguelike game. 

This team read on my blog several years ago when I was searching for a good dungeon-based match 3 game and had a hard time finding one I liked. This developer felt the same way, and after all these years they've made a game that does a pretty good job of marrying Roguelike and Match 3. (I've played the demo, it's quite good!)

They're even going to give me a free copy of the game when it releases . . . not because of marketing, but because there was some comradery there. While I won't share the majority of the message with you, I do want to call out one particular quote that warmed my heart.

Absolutely I'm cheering you on! GO STARSTRUCK!

So, I hope this post doesn't sound like I'm patting myself on the back, but rather more that it feels good. You can put a lot of energy and kindness out into the world and it rarely comes back to you. And that's fine, but when it does, it makes it all worth it.

I'm happy I was able to inspire a few people and thankful that I was ever able to help anyone in a small way. Thanks for your time and for letting me be a part of your lives in one way or another.

Happy Dueling!