EightyEight Games 10,000,000 was a surprisingly lovely and silly combination of match-3 and endless running gaming, and entirely won us over. It's sequel, You Must Build A Boat [official site], is out any moment now, and here's wot I think:
You Must Build A Boat is how all sequels should be. The core of the original game, embellished in every direction, so that everything feels slightly bigger, slightly more involved, and slightly more rewarding. Perhaps that target is slightly more easily achieved when your game is a match-3 crossed with an endless runner, but it remains a particular joy to see a game I loved evolve into a game I love even more.
To catch everyone up: 10,000,000 (10m) was a game in which you slid rows and columns of a grid of tiles to match three or more symbols. Those symbols then played a role in the endless running side-scroller at the top of the screen - for instance, swords and staffs attacked encountered enemies, keys unlocked chests, and special abilities zapped magic. Along the way you'd also gather resources and gold, which would then be spent on upgrading your little hub world, to get access to better equipment, new bonuses, and tweaks to difficulty. As you played you were given collections of tasks to complete (collect 300 gold, kill using X, and so on), which secured you further bonuses. Each run ended once your character had disappeared off the left of the inexorably scrolling screen, with only fast matching and swift attacking gaining him ground. Once you reached 10 million points, you won! The unique combination of the two notoriously mobile-friendly game styles saw 10m find a more natural home on your portable cordless telephone. But it was a splendid time on PC too.
You Must Build A Boat takes the same match-3ing and the same endless running, and indeed the swords and staffs and gold, and then builds onto it like a mad genius child with lots of leftover Lego. The hub section is now much more important, being the titular boat. You begin with a dinghy, and a couple of chaps offering you quests. Complete them and you begin to expand your crew, both with friendly folks who'll improve your weapons, skills and magic, a floating orb thing that will buy your loot, and an ever-growing arsenal of monsters you've successfully captured during your runs. And then so, so many more new arrivals that I shall not spoil.
There are a fair few changes to the match-3 element, too. The most significant of which is allowing you to play your next move before the last has finished. This speeds things up considerably, and allows for much more skill to be employed. As a die-hard Zoo Keeper fan, it's an incredibly welcome change, and lets me much further exploit my otherwise useless talent for matching threes of things. There are also changes with what you're collecting. Gone are wood and rocks, replaced by brains and brawn, each used to employ captured monsters into your crew. (They're "captured" by completing certain tasks, such as killing three of a type in a round, or doing enough damage in a single attack, etc.) Monsters offer tweaking bonuses, as 10m's potions previously did. Having a dragon join your motley gang might increase damage resistance by 2%, say. Or another beast might slow down traps.
Traps? Another new feature, these fly in from the right of the screen and do your character harm, unless you manage to make a match featuring the symbol they're carrying in time. And they can be nasty. One type will freeze you for a worrying time, another will zap your shields away. Oh, and shields are much better implemented this time - visually represented by a semi-circle in front of your character, so more easily seen as being effective. Also much more interesting now are crates, which will occasionally reveal bonus attacks, such as super-damaging arrows that fall on enemies from above, spells for you to cast, and the familiar ground-gaining food.
The challenges you're assigned each run also take on a far greater role. You can choose how many to assign yourself each time, from 1 to 3, and each comes with its own consequences. Perhaps you'll be tasked with defeating an enchanted monster, but to have this in your list, it'll add "Vulnerability", meaning your shields won't work that round. All tasks add both "quality" and "danger" to the run too, meaning the more you take on, the tougher it is, but the better loot you'll gain. And loot! You gather all manner of nonsense, invisibly it should be said, which you can eventually sell on your ship for even more gold.
Once you've completed as series of challenges, your ship will sail on to the next location, bringing new enemies, new challenges, and new elements to the game, which constantly evolves as you play - there's much more going on and being added in here than 10m, which perhaps stayed a little too similar throughout. And as you go, your boat gets bigger and better, and that makes you a better person.
There's so little to fault here. My major complaint is that the traps really, really need an audio cue. Obviously a large part of the challenge is paying attention to both the tile grid and the corridor above, but when you're in the middle of a battle, frantically searching for a volatile match, the silent sliding in of traps is something incredibly tough to spot. A little siren sound or similar, to alert you that you need to be doing yet something else in that moment, would make all the difference.
Beyond that, You Must Build A Boat does everything it sets out to do with elegance and wit. The chunky pixel presentation is a lot more detailed than its predecessor, the simple animations are wonderful, and there's so much attention to tiny detail. Selling loot in the shop is a bit of a non-thing - it's just converting things you didn't know you had into gold, by clicking on a picture of a sack. But the loot is named in popping-out text, the text size, colour and excitability of its appearance demonstrating its value, alongside the figure. It's a tiny thing, but it makes it exciting that you found a special banana, or whatever.
I do rather love that I can have a "Frozen Shocking Overcharged Staff of Immolation, Heart and Doubles", and people on my boat whose only purpose is to grunt at me. And I especially like that this game gets much tougher toward the end. Some of the challenges are pretty tricky, and the enemies get properly beefy by the final level. And in even better news, this time out the better version is on PC. I've played it through on Android as well, and both are superb - but the PC build makes smart use of the larger screen, feels just as slick, and doesn't suffer for a mouse instead of a finger.
I've encountered a few bugs along the way, although I've been playing not-quite-final code, being tweaked right up until release. Sadly, one bug prevented the game's ending from happening, but hopefully my noble sacrifice means the issue will be gone by the time it's out. Beyond that, and just that minor wish about the silent hovering traps, I can find nothing to complain about. It's a tougher, bigger, deeper and more elaborate evolution of an already great idea.
You Must Build A Boat is available on Steam.