Critical Play: Theme Only Games (Ember Fu)

I played two games of the “match 3” variety, Dots and Cat Condo. Despite being both classified in this familiar umbrella of “match 3”, I found even these relatively simple games to be quite different game experiences with perhaps the largest thematic change simply bein theme.

To start with, Dots is a mobile game developed by Playdots Inc and it takes a simple but effective approach. The board is designed to be minimalistic – small colorful dots on a white space. Linking dots in various ways, with some unique combos like how making a square gets rid of all current dots of that color, is the name of the game. Just from this minimalistic approach, I felt a satisfaction while playing this game similar to cleaning-type games; I was having fun eliminating mess and culling the board until I had groups or arrays of a select number of colors. I also felt the most fun way to play it was in the Moves mode, where one could take one’s time but had a limited amount of moves, making each decision a carefully chosen one. Because of the minimalistic theme, my attention was focused on the strategy of making the best dot connections.

Cat Condo, on the other hand – a mobile game developed by the studio Zepni – is fast paced and almost addictive in a mindless way, much different from the measured pace of Dots. The focus was on cute cat designs and many lively aesthetics bombarding one’s attention. This with the mechanic of combining cats into new variety of cats meant my goals were really focused on spamming more cats and matching them together quickly so that I could unlock and marvel at the newest top-combo variety of cat. In this game, you tap quickly to spawn “tiles” (flavor: cat boxes) in the first place, rather than having a set board, and you can also swap tiles freely – hence, it’s far more forgiving and less strategy-based than most match 3’s. By creating the game around cats and building a variety of them, the game feels much more lighthearted and wants to enable what might draw a player to the game in the first place – cats, of course!

I enjoyed both of these games as time-killers that take “match 3” and lean more or less into certain mechanics, creating a new little twist of a game. I thought it was intriguing how different they turned out to be, as I could tell the theme not only shaped the ultimate experience, but definitely was a core part of how the games were designed from the get-go ground up!

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