Born Three: Bret Airborne Is An Airship Match-3 RPG

Here’s an indie morsel: Bret Airborne. It’s a match-3 RPG (which is possibly the most bizarre genre to be so over-used) with some genuinely original ideas. Well, at least I’ve not encountered them before. Airship combat (in the loosest sense of the phrase) as you explore islands and fight enemy ships by matching three things at them to death.

What gives the game a different edge, albeit a slight one, is the mechanic of the playing field. The grid is divided down the middle, with your opponent’s tiles on the right, yours on the left, taking it in turns to make moves. You can only move tiles on your side of the grid. However, match them to tiles on his side, and that still works, and better, counts as piracy. And match four or more in a row and that central line shifts over a column, and your turn continues. Do that a bunch of times in a row and you’ll have all but one column of the grid until your turn is over. And as small a difference as it is, it’s an interesting one.

Another change from the norm is the ability to switch two tiles that don’t match. It’s your turn over, with nothing immediately achieved, but it can be used both to try to set up your next turn (risky, since the opponent can get over to your side if he’s lucky), or even better, sabotage a potentially powerful next move from him by moving something out of the way.

The rest is pretty much Puzzle Quest, nostrils and all. Cannonballs replace skulls, and red/green/blue gems power up your chosen skills. You pick up gold along the way, which can be spent in shops to pick up new bonuses and attacks, and naturally face opponents with a broad range of these for themselves. The rather enormous difference between this and PQ is, unfortunately, a lack of finesse. The whole presentation is rather crude, the characters looking a little bit like school exercise book doodles rather than something more professional. Of course that doesn’t impact significantly on the core game.

Then the bigger surprise, defeat actually matters here. In PQ and most of its brethren, defeat is pretty meaningless – you just start the battle again. But here you have a limited number of repairs for your ship, which when exhausted gives you a game over. A game over! When did you last see one of those outside of a Roguelike? Which is a great thing, although somewhat tempered by what I think is the game’s main issue: the grid is pretty small. When you’re taking it in turns on the same grid, or playing in real-time against an opponent, that’s less of an issue. But here you’ve mostly got half the grid available, and if luck doesn’t fall your way, defeat becomes a frustrating inevitability. Of course the opponents have just as much luck, good and bad, as you.

But as is the nature of these things, that always seems fair when it’s in your favour, and like the game’s cheating when it’s not. But when loss is important, those moments where the enemy gets the most extraordinary run of luck aren’t so easily dismissed, and given the small playing field, fighting back without the resources appearing for you is impossible. One particular enemy had the ability to prevent my using my powers, an ability which stacked up until I was just pointlessly flailing, and his victory was inevitable. In a second attempt, I ended up having an absolutely fantastic back-and-forth, the two of us both nearly losing, almost fully repairing, and then nearly losing our ships again. And my victory only made it the better. But that was only because, for whatever AI reason, he chose not to stack the Poison Cloud against me this time.

It’s $10 directly from developer Machine 22, or £6.50 on Desura.


  1. Ross Angus says:

    “Nostrils”? But it’s Thursday.

  2. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Matching three things at them to death? Ah, the sport of gentlemen. I shall look into this.

  3. Arathain says:

    I was writing some stuff on the forum about Dungeon Hearts (which is actually a really interesting game, and I’d love to know if anyone else has tried it), and realised how strange it is that I have a taste for puzzle-combat-RPG thingies. What an oddly specific thing to have a preference for. It speaks to how good the original Puzzle Quest was- I’m always searching for another one, and have never found anything as good. Although in the process I’ve played things like Clash of Heroes and Gyromancer, which I really like.

    • Martel says:

      Don’t feel bad, I find myself in the same situation

    • Soldancer says:

      I love this little sub-genre as well. I’ve played a pretty good amount of puzzle RPGs, which is pretty crazy since only a few years ago that wasn’t even a thing.

      Puzzle Quest still holds a special place in my heart as the first PRPG I played, but I have also played the sequel and Galactrix, neither of which is as good, and neither of which I ever finished. Same thing with Puzzle Chronicles and Clash of Heroes (though Clash is really good, but REALLY long and I just got burned out).

      Personally, my three favorites have been Gyromancer, Puzzle Kingdoms, and Legend of Fae. All three of these are on PC for pretty cheap, and all three are amazingly good, especially Legend of Fae. It’s actually in real time, so it satisfies the sort of “twitch” puzzle experience of something like Puzzle Fighter or timed mode in Bejeweled.

  4. mseifullah says:

    This looks like a nice bit of fun. I went ahead and downloaded the demo.

    Curious. I’m working a casual / competitive focused match-3 game myself; it’s nearing completion, but I decided not to even bother emailing RPS when its done because I figured that (1) Match-3’s don’t get covered on RPS and (2) it would just get lost in the daily mountain of email from other developers asking for a mention. Clearly, I was wrong on both accounts. With that said, I admit that my game definitely isn’t as original as this :-( Though it’s probably matched for charm.

    And after seeing the recent post for the Snuggle Truck clone with the header image of a pie chart roughly sorting the kinds of email that RPS receives daily, I was pretty sure I was making the right choice. But now I see this post. What am I to make of this? Do I hold out hope and bother with the email anyway?

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to rant & hi-jack a reply like this. Anyway, I’m installing the demo now…

    Edit: Played the demo and it’s lots of fun. The battle music is also fantastic! Definitely going to pick up the full game — not today, but soon (I’m broke right now).

    • John Walker says:

      It’s always worth sending us an email. We obviously can’t and don’t play everything we get sent, because we’d die. But it’s always worth sending it – and I’m a sucker for match-3 RPGs : )

    • Dave Toulouse says:

      Hi I’m the dev behind this game. Just some thoughts on what you posted:

      I knew that this game might be a tough sell even though so far people seem to enjoy it a lot once they go through the “match-3 barrier”. I never thought one minute however to not bother contacting some websites/bloggers/writers because I feared they might not be interested. It’s really a luxury you can’t afford as an indie (exceptions aside) and it’s not like it cost something to send an email. At the very worst you just don’t get any answer.

      What I did however was to do some research before sending my mails. For example on RPS I noticed that John posted about Puzzle Quest 2 in 2010 (link to so I figured that my best bet was to approach him since he seemed to be interested in the genre.

      It’s not always possible to do this (when all emails are hidden behind a contact form for example) but when it is it’s worth doing. But never ever prevent yourself from contacting people based on some impression you might have. Journalists don’t bite ;-)


      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        So John hasn’t bitten you… Yet.

      • mseifullah says:

        Hey! Thanks for making such a fun game. And thanks for the suggestion. You and John make good points.

        So, when my game is ready, i’ll send an email RPS’s way. And If I’m lucky, I’ll get a mention :-)