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Wot I Think: 10,000,000

And I would match five hundred swords

After a few months of making people happy on iPhone/Pad, EightyEight Games' lo-fi match-3/RPG mash-up 10,000,000 arrived on PC a couple of weeks back, for a low, low price and not a lot of fanfare. I quite fancied a go. So I had one. Then I wrote this about it.

Any games critic with at least one metric ounce of common sense knows better than to call a game 'addictive'. For starters it's lazy language, and for another thing anyone who truly believes that playing a videogame for longer than is perhaps wise equates to injecting heroin into one's genitals probably has far greater problems than low willpower. Damn you though, 10,000,000, you nearly had me. I nearly used the 'a' word: that's how hard I fell for you.

10,000,000, a quiet hit on iPhone last year, is a match-3 game. But wait! It's also an auto-runner. But wait! It's also a roguelike. Sort of. A little. Not much. Alright, I basically just said that to make sure you kept reading instead of rolling your eyes. It is a dungeon-crawler though, of a sort.

One of the troubles I've often had with match-3 games is answering the question 'why am I doing this? I make a row of shiny things, but only to make them disappear and a number go up.' Obviously the observational challenge has a certain pull, and there are levels of remarkable mastery to obtained by those most able and willing, but for me at least that 'hang on a gosh-darned second...' moment is rarely far away.

10,000,000 succeeds, and so very nearly warrants the 'a' word, because it lends purpose to the icon-matching. Not grand, sweeping, change-the-world purpose, obviously, but completing a sequence achieves something more than completing the sequence. Three swords biff a monster. Three shields stop a monster from biffing you. Three keys unlock the chest or door which is preventing your vital forward-motion. Five swords in tandem with three wands which results in five more swords when the first lot clears is like the best birthday party ever.

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Yes: it's a match-3 game where matching 3 hits stuff and loots stuff. On top of that, your character is forever trying to rush forward, and if he can't - because he can't line up the necessary tiles to kill a monster or open a lock - the game's invisible timer gradually pushes him further towards the left-hand side of the screen. Time and again I fell into panic because I couldn't seem to line up three swords, so the dragon or knight or treant I was up again slowly shoved my little guy backwards. I missed obvious matches because I was desperate. Even though that enemy could not kill me as such, the terror that it might end my run if I couldn't line up three staffs or swords was absolute. Because once I reached the farthest left-hand edge, it's game over.

Except it isn't. He goes back to his cell with any resources he won (gold, experience, wood, stone) and can spend them on assorted upgrades, such as damage, timer delays, defence and all kinds of combos that people who are good at this thing (unlike someone like me, who often just frantically slides icons around in the desperate hope of accidentally getting a match) can make good use of. Also, if you beat your last high score, your overall score goes up. Up, up, up, forever chasing the titular, incredibly hard to Google, 10,000,000.

The score is not additive, so if you don't beat your previous highest score on a given run, your number ain't going up. The upgrades, and the levelling up you do by meeting certain minor objectives, help with both your score modifier and your ability to overcome obstacles, so what initially seems like an impossible number in fact is achievable with a solid half-day of play.

It's a game designed to be played in chunks rather than binged on, but that probably won't stop you. I binged. I binged hard. Of course, offering multiple strands of eminently obtainable short-term goals can be exploitative design, but 10,000,000 is so jolly and self-aware, and indeed strategic to a point, that I couldn't possibly accuse of it any such malevolence. It's an apparently effortless and pleasantly wry fusion of three genres, it's free from any micro-transaction naughtiness and it's the kind of game where attaining a higher level has a truly tangible effect, rather than an incremental one.

Unfortunately it as perfunctory as iOS ports to PC get, to the point that it has to sadly flash up a note upon loading to let you know that it will totally ignore your keyboard, and dragging icons around with the mouse feels slightly laborious because it's been made with finger-flicks in mind. It doesn't scale up terribly well to a high-res screen either, but then its consciously retro, nut-sized pixel aesthetic means it doesn't really need to. It's also a game where anything visual necessarily takes a back seat to the terrible, wonderful hunger that drives your forward.

Clearly, with any analysis of what you're doing the game's as hollow as even the cruellest Bejewelled clone. But it doesn't feel it. It feels like challenge, it feels like reward, it feels like tension and release, and it feels like an impossible task steadily, satisfyingly becoming possible. Great stuff: it deserves a more careful port, and its name is all but suicidal, but it's still a little wonder which proves the match-3 concept is far from flogged to death.

10,000,000 is out now, currently via Steam only on PC, for £3.99/$4.99.

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