I just spent my lunch break playing Dungeon Of Elements, which popped up on Steam overnight following an earlier Desura release. It reminded me that I'd been meaning to mention the hour or so I spent with ReignMaker, a game that it shares some design principles with. There's a reason for that - both were made by FrogDice, a company that has been in business for almost twenty years and is currently slotting comfortably into the Puzzle Quest gap. ReignMaker is a match-3 tower defense city-building game and Dungeon Of Elements is a fantasy take on Dr. Mario with a dash of RPG-lite. They're both easy to dismiss but pleasant to play.
At their core, both games have earned a contined stay on my hard drive because they tweak the formulas that they're drawn from. ReignMaker becomes quite difficult early on, mixing the Match-3 basics with inventory-based powers and the pressure of approaching hordes of enemies. It's not enough simply to make matches, the combos must line up with attacking monsters in order to eliminate them. And then there's the city-building, which could have been nothing more than a thematic backdrop but instead has political and social decision-making. It's all light and cheery in delivery and tone, but adds a little more for the player to do in between quests.
Dungeon Of Elements is similar in that it modifies the gamefield in order to keep play interesting. Obstacles appear, items and monster types change the flow of the falling elemental ingredients, and the game is tougher than the cutesy surface might suggest.
Both games might be a better fit for a tablet, taking up time on train journeys and the like, but they'll also manage to occupy me during the occasional tedious World Cup match. Games to play while listening to podcasts or idly watching the telly. I spend so much time with my brain buried in various forms of entertainment that demand my full attention that I'm relieved to find something engaging but not quite as distracting as my usual fare.
If I'm going to grumble - and I usually do - I'll take a pop at the graphics. They're not eyesores and the gawky character models aren't a focus of attention, but during the actual elemental matching sections of DoE, the field isn't particularly clean, which can be frustrating. And the whole thing could do with an injection of juice.