Match-Up! (iOS) review

Match-Up! is a new iOS game by Big Fish. It’s available now as a free Universal download from the App Store, and carries additional in-app purchases of in-game currency and booster items.

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Match-Up! is Big Fish’s attempt to take a direct shot at the popularity of asynchronous multiplayer games. Speaking with Polygon earlier this month, Big Fish’s general manager Chris Williams noted that “here’s been a great run for asynchronous tournament games in the App Store — it’s been good” but that he thought Match-Up! would signal an end to that particular era of mobile gaming. These words were backed up by Phil Gordon, founder of developer Jawfish, who put together Match-Up! for Big Fish — Gordon noted that “turn-by-turn games like Words With Friends and Scramble With Friends bored [him] to tears” and that “the waiting was mind-numbing.” As such, Match-Up! has been designed as a conscious attempt to keep the accessibility of casual games while transplanting the competitive experience into a live tournament environment.

Match-Up! is actually three different games in one. Qbeez is a Diamond Dash-style puzzler in which players attempt to match groups of two or more like-colored cube-shaped creatures in order to make them disappear and score points. Word Rack is a simple word game in which players compete to make the best possible word using a single Scrabble-style rack of letters. Mahjong is a straightforward implementation of the classic tile-matching solitaire game.

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 3.06.53 PMThe twist that Match-Up! offers is that all of these games are played live against other people. There are two main types of tournament that players may participate in — knockout competitions eliminate the lowest-performing player after each round expires, while full tournaments pit up to 16 players in a series of head-to-head competitions to determine who is the ultimate champion of that particular grouping. Performing well in a tournament rewards the player with the game’s soft currency chips, which are used to compete in higher-stakes games. All games may be played for free, however — the rewards for playing in free tournaments are relatively small, but there is nothing limiting how much they can be played in a single session, meaning that players can “grind” for soft currency if they desire — alternatively, chips may be acquired via in-app purchase.

Each game has its own unique “boost” facility that can be used once per game. In Qbeez, the Shuffle boost rearranges the board to help the player get out of a “no more moves” situation; in Word Rack, the boost provides the player with the first letter of a “bingo” (a word that uses all of the available letters); and in Mahjong, the player has the choice of Hint and Shuffle boosts to help them out. The player has a single stock of boosts that carry across between all games, and is occasionally provided with additional units for free as daily bonuses and other rewards; otherwise, they must be acquired via in-app purchases. Most of the boosts are designed in such a way that they give players a small advantage, but aren’t completely game-breaking and by no means guarantee victory.

Social features for the game include Game Center and Facebook connectivity — using the latter, players may brag about winning a tournament on their Timeline if they so desire, as well as importing their name and profile picture. The former, meanwhile, is used to set up the player’s profile and provide a largely meaningless leaderboard function tracking how many chips the player has compared to others. The game also features a suite of 78 achievements for players to chase. The facility to invite friends to a play session would have perhaps been welcome, but ultimately it doesn’t matter all that much, since there seems to be plenty of people to play against at the time of writing.