Puzzle in Paradise

Paradise Quest
Reviewed On
Available For

When the first "match-3" games started coming out in 2001 or so, there was also a plethora of clone games. Almost all of these clones were like the originals in gameplay – you swapped the symbols around to make matches of three or more, and kept doing so until you made a certain number of matches or reached a certain point total, and then you went on to the next level and did pretty much the same thing over again. This simple concept was so popular, that some online RPGs and communities adopted this game mechanic for one aspect or another of their overall experiences.

Because of their ubiquity, many people manage to lump all games based off of this idea in the same heap. And as a result, some really good and clever match-3 games get overlooked with all the rest. Paradise Quest is one of the good ones, and it would be a mistake to just throw it onto the pile.

In Paradise Quest, you are some kind of ecologist who arrives on a devastated island in the Galapagos. There appears to be all sorts of deforestation, interruptions of the water systems, and even one instance of strip mining. How someone managed to do all this right under the nose of UNESCO, I’ll never know. But at any rate, your job is to restore the ecosystem to its former glory.

You do this mainly by playing levels of a match-3 game, which I suppose represents exploring the island. These levels are huge, usually many times bigger than the screen, and are unusually shaped, causing drops to be more difficult to predict when matches are made. You navigate through the levels by making matches near one edge of the screen, causing your view to shift in that direction. There is no overall "score" for these levels; instead you earn resource points by matching one of three special symbols – plants, food, and water. You can spend these points on various vegetation and water features that appear in the various environments of the island, each attracting different species of wildlife.

Aside from the basic gameplay, Paradise Quest will throw additional twists in your path. On some levels you will run into a nest of "vines" that cover squares, making the symbol they contain immovable. When you match a symbol under a vine, the vine goes away, freeing the symbol to move as normal. However, the vines will spread over time, unless every last square of them is eradicated. Other levels are "night" levels, where you can’t see the whole board, only what is lit by "torches" that are scattered around the map. You have to light torches by clicking on them as you find them. Also, eventually they will burn out and you have to re-light them.

Levels are completed when a certain number (three to five, depending on the specific level) of plaques are recovered from the middle of these three-by-three squares of "earth" that are found from time to time. These plaques are only freed up once the surrounding eight squares are spent in matches at least once. As soon as you get the last plaque, the level ends, and you are back to the island view.

The plaques then are part of a picture puzzle which, when completed allows you entry in to one of the five environments on the island. And by "entry" I mean you can see a nice color picture of it. Once you can enter an environment, you get to see all of the animal species you’ve attracted back to that environment. At this point you can use a camera to snap a picture of each new animal.

Sometimes finding the new animals out of the bunch is difficult, as it may be difficult to remember which animals you’ve already photographed, and some of them are smallish insects. There are 15 total in each of the environments, so after a while you start re-photographing old animals until you find the one that is new. Fortunately, there is a counter showing the number of yet-to-be-photographed animals.

Every once in a while, one of the plaques is actually a piece of an ancient artifact. Why there is only this one artifact, and the pieces are scattered all over the island, I’ll never know. But at any rate, when you complete a level which revealed one of these, you are treated to a slide show of a telephone conversation between you and an archaeologist friend of yours, who helps you try to figure out what it is. Some half-witty, somewhat innuendo-laden conversation ensues, and then you see a picture in your scrapbook that has all of the pieces you have collected so far. Unfortunately, you can’t manipulate the pieces in an effort to reassemble the artifact. We thought this might have been a good additional puzzle to put in, as the game goes on, but the designers thought otherwise.

Unfortunately, the game has a serious pacing problem toward the later levels. You get all of the pieces to all five habitats at level 44, but there are still 15 species of animal to attract. Meanwhile the prices of the terrain features have increased considerably relative the amount you "harvest" from each level. You gradually go from buying one or possibly two features every level to taking ten or so levels just to buy one. So, with absolutely nothing to do between these ten or so levels (barring the occasional artifact piece), the game is reduced to essentially a completely un-themed match-3 game, which can get tedious.

This becomes especially evident once you have finally purchased all of the terrain features necessary to attract all 75 animals. The very next level you play will have the final artifact piece in it, and the ensuing phone conversation lets you know that you suddenly had discovered a huge temple in the middle of the island, right where it originally looked like the aforementioned strip mining had taken place. Maybe the ancient culture did the strip mining in order to build the temple?

Anyway, once that conversation happens, you are taken to the page where the pieces all lay unassembled, and, get this, they assemble themselves right before your eyes. Oh, come on! How much trouble could it have been to let me do it myself? And then a first-person slide show starts of you approaching the temple, clearing away the moss and vines, and finally putting the artifact into the same-shaped hole and having the door open. And all the while you can’t do anything but watch. Come on! What was all that eventually tedious match-3 play for, anyway?

Then, you discover a picture inside the temple. Another phone conversation and your "friend" gives you the translation of the writing, describing some kind of never-before-seen animal, and what food and terrain it likes. And of course you get it into your head to restore those terrain features, even though the creature has been extinct for centuries.

So now, in order to complete the game, you have to by four new features, with resource costs at least five times what they cost in the last excruciating round. And of course you have to buy all four before anything new happens, because the mythical beast needs all four. So anyone bound and determined to see the end of the game now faces approximately 30 more levels of play with no between-level rewards or activities whatsoever.

I think part of the problem is the game spoils us at the beginning by giving us all this stuff to do between levels and then slowly takes it all away, which makes us feel abandoned. If they hadn’t put in those goodies in the first place, maybe we wouldn’t know what we were missing. But I for one am ultimately glad they did; it’s better to have loved and lost, and all that.

Whatever dings the gameplay score may have gotten for all this, the value grade pretty much made up the difference. It can really be argued that the more levels you need to play, the more game you get for your money.

The music is interesting, with "primitive" sounding instruments and vocals. They tend to sound more African than South American, but hey, atmosphere is atmosphere. There are only like three songs however, so you will either love them or hate them by the time you are done. Also, they are only like a three- to four-minute loop, so by the time you solve some of the larger levels you will have heard the song repeat several times. Of course, you can always turn the music off in the settings if it gets to be too much.

Paradise Quest is a good variation on the old match-3 concept. For the first 50 levels, it is pretty awesome, then the enjoyment can drop a bit afterward. However, for the price, it is a pretty good bargain. It earns 4 Gems out of 5 for being an overall good game to pass the time with.

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