How to Bury a Great Game
Unless you’ve read mentions of it in the newsletter, I’ll wager you’ve never heard of Evy: Magic Spheres (HeroCraft, 2014). It was released last year and looked like just another brightly coloured casual game in a sea of brightly coloured casual games. You probably wouldn’t even click on the YouTube trailer because you’d be that sure about its content. It’s a marble popper! I already played Zuma (Oberon Media, 2003) and millions of Zuma clones! (Lest you get the wrong idea, Zuma itself was a clone of a 1998 Japanese arcade game called Puzz Loop.)
But Evy reviews are thin on the ground and now, even better, Russian developer HeroCraft seem to have completely given up on her.
This matters to me because Evy was one of my favourite games of 2014.
It was the trailer that got me to try Evy because I couldn’t understand what was going on. Yes, to my surprise, it was bafflement that led to instinctual purchase. I am weird like this. But this weirdness sometimes pays off.
I shouldn’t try to tell HeroCraft how to run a game developer business, because according to their presskit they’ve been around for 13 years which is 13 years longer than I’ve been running a videogame business. But let’s run a totally scientific experiment. Let’s review the six big features of Evy as listed on its Indie Game Stand page.
The first three bullet points:
- Stunning hand-drawn art
- Magnificent fairy-tale world
- Gripping plot with odd allies
Uh, yeah, graphics and story. I don’t know if anybody is going to buy a casual game for its story and there is nothing really noteworthy here. Here’s a screenshot from an early level.
Are there match-3 games with gripping plots? I remember the one bundled with mindbending puzzler Tidalis (Arcen Games, 2010) and that was kind of… not good.
- Compelling upgrade system
Okay, somebody call the police, right now. We need to lock up the person who wrote this list and throw away the key, because it’s a crime against marketing. No one buys a compelling upgrade system. Oh I just love experience points. I loved them so much my brain vomited inside my skull when I found they had been added to No One Lives Forever 2 (Monolith, 2012), a game that seemed determined to sully my love for the original NOLF. Upgrade systems at their best are just a façade of progress as difficulty increases to match your increasing power; at their worst, they punish the player for making the wrong choice of upgrade.
- Variety of minigames across 61 levels
Minigames? Why are we so intent on not talking about the game? Alright, I’m no fool. I understand what’s going on here. Everyone knows what a marble popper is so why talk about it? The marble popper craze is well played out so maybe it’s just better to sell it to folks based on the look and the feelz. Unfortunately, and this an elephant-sized unfortunately, this approach might convince you that Evy is merely noise in the already burdened digital stores. Another clone, move along.
Which brings us to the final bullet point.
- Unique ‘marble popper’ duel system
At last! We arrive at something resembling REAL MEAT. This is why I played Evy non-stop for a week until I’d conquered every level. Let’s talk about the Evy, the marble popper battle game.
You are presented with a stream of coloured spheres; each turn you get to add spheres to this stream and, like every other marble popper, you pop spheres by putting three or more spheres of the same colour together. Unlike every other marble popper, Evy is a game of turn-based tactics, where the player faces off against an AI.
You defeat your opponent by popping red spheres that deal damage. Green spheres can be used to heal and purple spheres boost your next attack. Other colours appear later which add more tactical layers – you will encounter white, blue, yellow and, of course, the fearful black sphere.
You might get the wrong impression to begin with, because the game seems really easy. It’s just a decent tutorial, to make you feel like you know what you’re doing. Yeah, that doesn’t last. The AI gradually beefs up its aggression and can absorb a lot more damage before keeling over. You spend more time studying each move, gazing at the sphere arrangements to see if you can force the AI into giving you something – or whether you need to block an impending nightmare attack. Chaining matches is vital to construct 4 or 5 sphere attacks but the AI is also looking for chains so if you’re not careful you can be hoist with your own petard. Enjoy watching the AI unleash the devastating chain attack you had spent the last few turns building.
There’s a lot of nuance in Evy’s structure. Popping spheres shunts the whole stream and sometimes popping marbles can shift your incomplete sphere combo off the screen. Even the very geometry of the sphere stream is important as it means part of the stream can be out of reach of your opponent – and similarly parts are out of reach for you. The spheres available to the player and the AI change from level to level.
Remarkably, there are levels which seem initially impossible. On these levels, the AI either seems to be overpowered or the scenario configured to disadvantage the player, and I got stuck on some these levels, failing over and over again. Such levels are best approached as a puzzle where you have to figure out the right tactical “key” to unlock it. Thinking instead of reacting.
I also really dug the audio work for Evy. The gentle clack of the marbles gives the sphere stream some heft, but when the spheres pop and explode into magic spells that fire at your opponent’s health bar – gosh, that feels satisfying.
But it’s a little shy of true greatness for numerous reasons: on some levels it feels like luck plays a greater role than it should; the minigames that pop up could be considered a reward but they felt more like an interruption; the AI is not perfect and occasionally makes a sub-optimum choice.
Nonetheless, Evy was a surprise obsession when I had only expected a simple diversion that I would soon tire of. It makes me wonder why the game has not yet hit Steam even though it was greenlit in December. It makes me wonder why Evy has been removed from the HeroCraft website.
Turns out that HeroCraft rebranded Evy as Marble Duel for iOS last year. The new name is far more accurate, with the prominent feature right there in the name instead of floundering at the back of a queue of bullet points, but it sounds uninspiring. Marble. Duel. Maybe I should shut up in a world where big App Store scores have names like “Angry Birds”, “Temple Run” and “Flappy Bird”. Another Marble Duel change is the title art. Although the main story is about an orphan child called Evy, Marble Duel is now fronted by a busty lady.
Perhaps HeroCraft learnt from the reception of the PC version. I’m guessing they see iOS as a more lucrative market for this sort of title, the true home of “casual gaming”. To prevent confusion, I assume HeroCraft have effectively killed off the PC version. The Steam release has stalled and the title Evy: Magic Spheres appears nowhere on HeroCraft’s website.
I find this a shame. But, if you’re so inclined, you can still buy Evy: Magic Spheres right now from Indie Game Stand.
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3 thoughts on “How to Bury a Great Game”
Okay so I’ve never played Puzzle Quest and it strikes me the whole combat aspect may be borrowed from that title. Can anyone assist?
Yep. That’s about right. The original puzzle quest had attack “gems” you could match as well as a lot of colored gems that charged up skills or did other things. Other games (e.g., dungeon raid) use something a little closer to this specific battle mechanic with healing, shielding, and attack tiles.
Agh, I thought as much. That makes me feel less positive about all the gushing. It’s still good fun – but not as unique as I thought. Still I don’t think there is another Zuma/duel hybrid (I did extensive searching for prior art).
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