Rune Gems brings a Shanghai-esque take on the match-3 genre

Rune Gems is a new iOS game from Star Sprite. It’s currently available as a free, ad-free download with additional in-app purchases, but will become a paid app at an undisclosed point in the near future.

Rune Gems calls itself a “match-3” puzzler but in doing so does itself something of a disservice — it’s neither a Bejeweled nor a Diamond Dash clone, instead having more in common with Mahjong/Shanghai solitaire than anything else.

Players are presented with a stack of tiles at the beginning of each level and are tasked with clearing them all from the screen. This is achieved by picking them up one at a time and creating groups of three like-colored tiles in a rack at the bottom of the screen. The rack has seven spaces in total, and if the player picks up seven tiles without creating any matches, they fail the level. However, to make the game a little easier, players do not have to pick up the colored tiles to create matches in the correct order — simply picking up one that is already in the rack is sufficient.

Some tiles are stacked on top of each other; consequently, some are inaccessible until the tiles atop them are taken off. In early stages, players can clear tiles relatively haphazardly with little risk; in later stages, players must carefully plan out the “route” they are going to carve through the stacks of tiles in order to ensure they don’t force themselves into a no-win situation. Players have optional use of both “magic” and “time” runes to help them — the former automatically picks a good gem to take, while the latter allows for an “undo.” Twenty of each rune are provided to the player on first starting the game; additional ones may be acquired through in-app purchase.

Rune Gems is an excellent, well-presented game, friendly to both long and short play sessions. The total number of levels on offer in the free version (15) is a little limited, but players may unlock additional content through a one-off $0.99 in-app purchase — plus the game’s nature means that it will be easy for the developer to add additional content either through free updates or premium DLC packages. The game could also perhaps benefit from a level editor, allowing users to create and share their own challenges with friends. This could also potentially open up some viral promotion channels for the game if connected to social networks, as currently the only social features in the game are Game Center achievements and leaderboards.

As it stands, however, Rune Gems is a fine addition to the iPhone’s library of puzzle games and noteworthy for not simply falling back on cloning an existing game. It deserves to enjoy some success for this fact — and also for being a good game in its own right.

App Store leaderboard information for Rune Gems was unavailable at the time of writing. Check back shortly to follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.