Gem-hunting with Mystic Ice Blast

Mystic Ice Blast from GameHouse is a relatively recent release on Facebook, and has been showing strong growth over the past few weeks. On Wednesday, it showed up as the No. 5 top gainer by monthly active users, picking up 500,000 MAU for a gain of 36%.

The game’s basic mechanics are almost identical to Collapse Blast, one of GameHouse’s other Facebook titles that is in turn almost identical to Wooga’s Diamond Dash, which is similar to numerous other gem-matching titles. Players are presented with a grid filled with colored gems and are given 60 seconds to click on groups of adjacent like-colored gems to remove them and score points. Matching gems leaves a gap into which other gems fall.

Matching gems quickly fills a meter at the side of the screen. When this is full, the player enjoys a short period of time where any matched groups explode, taking out surrounding gems as well as those that make up the group. Clicking on an incorrect group or gem, however, causes the meter to decrease.

Completing a game rewards the player with soft currency and experience points. Initially, there is nothing to spend this soft currency on, but after a few games (not at a specific level boundary for some reason) the ability to purchase powerups unlocks. The game does not explain that this is going to happen beforehand, even going so far as to offer a suggestion that players buy powerups when it is not yet possible to do so, leading to potential confusion.

Players are able to purchase up to three powerups to take into their next game, and these will then randomly show up on the board, providing functions ranging from extra time to removing all gems of a particular color from the board. Occasionally, special gems will show up before a game, similar to those seen in EA PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz. These generally cost a large amount of soft currency to activate but provide significant score bonuses.

The game is closer in execution to Diamond Dash than Collapse Blast, as the latter makes it possible to clear the screen of blocks completely, while in Wooga’s title the gems keep coming until time is up. The game does seem somewhat easier than Diamond Dash: Special features such as powerups unlock much faster and special gems make it a relatively simple matter to attain huge scores. This has the side-effect of giving players little incentive to level up, however, since leveling up in Mystic Ice Blast only provides players with a small soft currency bonus, while Diamond Dash gives players a score boost that increases in size the higher level they are.

To encourage user retention, the game features a weekly tournament system similar to other “blitz” puzzlers. Players are also able to send extra lives to their friends who are already playing the game, and to invite Facebook friends who have not already installed it.

Ultimately, Mystic Ice Blast is a perfectly competent, well-presented game, but one that has very little in the way of originality — and, more to the point, little to distinguish it from the numerous other almost-identical “blitz” puzzlers already on the social network. Its early growth suggests that it is finding a reasonably sized audience — perhaps Diamond Dash players waiting for their lives to restore and looking for a similar game — but the few flaws in the experience and the fact it really offers nothing new or noteworthy make it a title that can be safely passed by.

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There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Mystic Ice Blast, but there’s nothing that makes it particularly worthy of note, either.