The “Match-3” style of video game wasn’t invented at the dawn of smartphones and mobile gaming, but it was definitely perfected after that point. Touchscreens are the ideal input method for this type of game, and they’ve been pervasive in both major app stores for the past 15 years or so.
Just when I thought that the Match-3 formula had been perfected, another one found its way onto my phone. It’s called Royal Match, and despite the signature addicting gameplay and dangerously effective dopamine delivery, it has some issues with its monetization system that can’t be overlooked.
Let’s talk about it in this review of Royal Match on iOS.
A Familiar Face
If you have played a mobile game or searched the internet at some point between the start of COVID and now, you’ve probably seen King Robert.
The friendly-faced royal has been positively plastered across the web since its early access launch in July 2020, usually depicting the “King’s Nightmare” bonus missions that are present in the game. With this level of marketing, you might think that Royal Match’s developer/publisher is well-established, and old hat at marketing their games. You would be wrong though, because Dream Games was only founded in 2019, and Royal Match is their very first project.
They have another Match-3 game out at the moment – Royal Kingdom starring King Robert’s younger brother, King Richard (I’m not sure that’s how the royal hierarchy works) – but Dream Games is still a fledgling studio for all intents and purposes.
… they definitely cracked the code on what makes a fun game though.
If you’ve played a Match-3 game, you know what to expect from Royal Match.
There are a variety of game pieces with different shapes and colors, and your objective is to clear a board of certain obstacles in a set number of moves. The longer you play, more intricate and nuanced obstacles are introduced.
First, you’ll have patches of grass that can only be trimmed down by making matches, then wooden boxes, and then cupboards full of fine china that needs to be… smashed for some reason. It doesn’t always make sense, but the audio/visual feedback from all of these obstacles being dealt with is intoxicating. Some rounds will add layers to these obstacles so that they need to be interacted with more than once in order to clear them away. I’m assuming that choice was implemented to add difficulty, but I just found those particular squares to be more tedious.
Of course, you can’t have a Match-3 game without powerups, and thankfully Royal Match has those in spades.
The majority of your Royal Match powerups will appear on the game board by combining different numbers of game pieces in different orientations. Early game power-ups include a rocket that clears entire rows or columns of pieces depending on which way it’s pointing, a disco ball that zaps every instance of a shape you match it with, and the always trusty bomb. Having access to these makes things interesting on their own, but you can also combine different power-ups to create even more powerful and potentially even screen-clearing ones – such as the potent combination of a bomb and disco ball. That combo turns every game piece the disco ball zaps into a bomb, and ignites them all at the same time for one big boom.
It’s very satisfying.
There are also powerups you can use at will that are separate from the game board powerups, such as a hammer that you can use to clear away obstacles and a bow that can clear an entire row of your choosing. More of these are unlocked as you progress, which keeps things interesting.
The combination of gameplay, powerups, effects, and sounds make Royal Match easy to pick up, but difficult to put down. That is, until the game’s dreaded implementation of microtransactions rears its ugly head.
Free-to-Play, or Pay-to-Play?
For the most part, free-to-play mobile gaming has been figured out. You make a fun game available to everyone, and then offer separate purchases that enhance the experience – usually through cosmetics. This has been the tried-and-true method that led to the proliferation of this particular monetization model.
Royal Match doesn’t do that.
You have access to the in-game store as soon as you start, which is different from some games I’ve played recently. Looking through it, you have the customary “special offer” for new players which bundles currency and helpful game items for a low price ($1.99), as well as more expensive bundles ranging from $9.99 to $99.99 with various amounts of items and currency. The $100 bundle with 65,000 gold coins, a smattering of powerups, unlimited bombs for 100 hours, and infinite lives for 18 hours is flagged with a “best value” banner, but I’m not so sure that’s true.
More interesting are the standalone packs of currency, which look like this:
1,000 Gold Coins – $1.99
5,000 Gold Coins – $7.99
10,000 Gold Coins – $14.99
25,000 Gold Coins – $29.99
50,000 Gold Coins – $54.99
100,000 Gold Coins – $99.99
The value basis changes the more coins you’re willing to buy, clearly favoring the more expensive packages. This is fine as I assume it’s a common practice in free-to-play games, but what’s not common practice is what you actually use the currency for.
Now, Royal Match isn’t a difficult game. I breezed through the first part of the game without any issues. However, I suddenly hit a wall where I ran out of moves twice, back to back. The first time, I had to spend somewhere in the realm of 900 coins. Almost $2 for a retry? Ok, I guess. But then I failed a second time, and the cost more than doubled to over 2,000 coins to get back in. I’m not sure if subsequent continues would follow this pattern, but it’s easy to see how players could burn through large amounts of coins if the difficulty is artificially spiked at any given point. That just doesn’t sit right with me.
Royal Pain in the Wallet
Royal Match is a fun, addicting time waster. Most people wouldn’t ask for much more than that out of a mobile game, and that’s totally fine. However, if you’re susceptible to spending large amounts of money on a whim, this might be one to avoid. It tilts toward scammy without much warning, which is something you have to be on the lookout for these days. But hey, it doesn’t have any in-game ads, so there’s that!