Once upon a time in the puzzle genre, the game itself was enough. Tetris stood on its own as a fun an addicting game that could be played over and over again for no better reason than to achieve a high score. So if Triple Town had been released in the 80s, it might have been a killer app just like Tetris was for the Gameboy; it can be that addictive! But here in the future, we expect a little bit more from our puzzle games… some kind of extra hook to keep us playing once the novelty of the game has worn off, and it is in this regard that the PC version of Triple Town falls short.
A Different Take on Match 3
But let’s start with the basics. Triple Town is a puzzle game about matching three or more pieces. Unlike Bejeweled, the pieces in Triple Town are not swapped, but hand placed onto a board that includes empty spaces. So instead of the game ending when there are no possible moves, the game instead ends when there is no more space to place a piece. When 3 or more like pieces are matched up, they combine into a new piece that occupies the space of the most recently placed piece.
The pieces themselves appear on the mouse cursor and are usually the most basic and common piece, which is a bit of grass. Less common pieces appear exponentially less frequently. Three or more grass pieces placed adjacent to each other will combine to form a bush, and three or more of those combine into a tree. The trees combine into houses, the houses combine into bigger houses, and those combine into mansions which then combine into castles. As you can imagine, building a castle is not easy, and believe it or not, that is not the end of the road. There are two even higher tiers that you can combine castles into, and I mean that literally.
Putting all of these things together forms a sort of town, hence the name Triple Town, but don’t expect to form any real attachment to the town you have constructed; it will be lost forever as soon as the game ends. Regardless, watching the town grow is fun and that is helped by charming and colorful visuals. Yes, you can tell it is an indie game just by looking at it, but having grown up on 8-bit games, I can tell you Triple Town looks good enough. I liked seeing the little people wander around the town and in and out of buildings, even though that had nothing to do with the game itself. There are also handy visual hints that help with the gameplay. If you hover a piece over a tile and the nearby pieces start moving, that means a match will be formed if your piece is placed. That helps not only in locating matches, but in prevent unintended matches. It’s a good thing help like this is in the game, because Triple Town becomes very difficult, especially in longer games.
Bears, Bears, Everywheres!
Attempting to build the biggest possible buildings in the game would have been hard enough if there was nothing more to it than what I’ve already described. Bears make things more complicated. Once in a while, instead of the usual helpful piece, a bear will appear on your cursor and must be placed on the board. The bear will wander around one space at a time every time you place a piece until it is trapped and cannot move at all. At that time, it will turn into a tombstone, which is a pretty big waste of the limited space you are provided. To get rid of the tombstone, you must combine it with two or more additional tombstones, which of course means trapping more bears. The tombstones will then combine into a church, which also is not particularly useful, and three of those combine into a cathedral. If you manage to put three cathedrals together, you will finally be rewarded for all of this bear hunting in the form of a treasure chest, which can be clicked on to add an item to your inventory (more on that later).
As if the bears weren’t bad enough, there are also ninja bears! These nuisances are placed onto the board just like regular bears, except instead of wandering around one space at a time, they actually teleport randomly from space to space. They cannot be trapped like regular bears; the only way to destroy them is with a rare piece called an imperial bot. When an imperial bot appears on the cursor, it can be used to destroy any piece on the board (or turn a bear or ninja bear into a tombstone). The problem is, in my experience, more ninja bears appear than imperial bots, so it is not unusual for a game to end after the ninja bears become too great in number. That, and you want the ninja bears to teleport to a good spot for the tombstone before you destroy them. The worst part about the ninja bears is that they have an evil tendency to teleport to the exact tile that is the most desirable location to place a piece! DAMN YOU NINJA BEARS! *shakes fist*
Fortunately, Triple Town is made easier by a couple other mechanics. First, each stage has a spot where a piece can be stored for later use. This becomes essential for planning strategies. There is also another rare piece that makes the game a bit easier. Crystals act like wild cards and can provide the third piece in a match, which comes in very handy later in the game while trying to match up mansions, castles and the other advanced structures. They are also great for clearing out cathedrals to earn that treasure chest I mentioned earlier.
The treasure chests can contain a variety of items. Sometimes you just get points to add to your score, but more often you will get a game piece that can be stored in your inventory for later use. This is different from the storage area on the game board because the items in your inventory do not have to be used in the current game and can be saved for later. Some of the items you get cannot even be used during gameplay, and are instead part of a mini-game that is played between games.
The Capital City
That mini-game is all about building up a capital city and is exclusive to the PC version of the game (Boom Town, a time limited mode where it is possible to quickly build up to high level structures, is on iOS and Android but not on PC). Using special items and coins you may have earned from treasure chests, from matching 4 or more pieces or by completing cities (losing the game), you can begin to build up a permanent city. The pieces all fall under three categories: industrial, military and farm. Just like in the main game, each of these categories has a variety of pieces that can combine through many tiers; for example, for farms there are seeds which combine into crops and then into grain and so on.
Depending on the highest tier you have constructed for each of the three categories, you will receive periodic rewards once you have earned enough points by playing the main game. These rewards are not unlike what you might discover in a treasure chest, and can be used either in the capital city or in a normal game. The capital city can also be spruced up with cosmetic items such as statues, flowers and landmarks, which cost a lot of coins. Coins can also be spent on land expansions, increasing the size of the island the capital city is built upon, one tile at a time.
The capital city could have been the hook to keep people playing Triple Town, but unfortunately, it is more tedious than fun, mainly because progress is so slow. In order to accumulate enough coins for a land expansion (4500), you would have to play multiple games over several hours. While doing this, you are sure to discover the ninja bear problem, which brings most games to the same premature end.
Thankfully, there are a few other game modes aside from the default. There is a mode with more bears than usual, a mode with a lake in the middle of the game board and my personal favorite, Peaceful Valley, the mode with no bears whatsoever! The only problem with Peaceful Valley is that is it a smaller board than the default, but at least there are no evil ninja bears lurking in the bushes.
Still, as much as I complain about the bears, Triple Town is quite a fun game to play, and it can be very addicting. There is surprising depth to matching the more advanced tiers of buildings together and it requires careful placement of every piece, even the common bit of grass. Best of all, this is a game you can grow with and get better at. After a few hours you should find yourself carefully planning where the pieces go in anticipation of putting together larger structures later in the game. But when the novelty wears off, the PC version’s capital city feature fails to give the game legs (it would be nice if Boom Town was patched in). Regardless, for the $9.99 it costs (Steam) you might find yourself happily occupied for 10 hours or more. If you are a fan of puzzle games, I recommend you give Triple Town a try.
Ari played 13 hours of the PC version of Triple Town he purchased, and also played the demo of the Android version.
+ Addicting Gameplay
+ No bears and/or ninjas in Peaceful Valley
-Frequency of Ninja Bears everywhere except Peaceful Valley
-Pacing of Capital City development
-Missing “Boom Town” mode from iOS and Android
Available on: PC, Mac, Android
Version Reviewed: PC