Puzzle Quest came out way back in 2007, can you believe that? The jewel-matching RPG that took the simplicity of a basic mobile phone time-waster and layered on impressive RPG depth. Now here’s another Australian indie twist on colour-matching. We profiled Ticket to Earth at PAX 2016, then it hit the App Store in March. Now it’s out on PC, where it costs about twice as much for some reason.
Anyway, a bunch of characters with different abilities are battling for a seat on the last starship to Earth... more or less. They’re definitely doing a story about the doomed colony of New Providence, anyway.
It’s widely described as a “match three” puzzler, but really this is a positional tactical RPG that uses a colour-matching mechanic to “charge up” each character. Each turn, the character moves, and the more squares they “match”, the more powerful the subsequent attack... or defence... or special ability.
Where TTE succeeds is in the way it layers simple mechanics to create something that is both tactically complex but also straightforward to understand. So many games like this, which offer “100 special moves!” end up with the player staring at lists of “Dagger, Dagger+1, Dagger+2” and it becomes all about knowledge management, rather than actual tactics.
When you’re fully immersed in a Ticket to Earth battle, you’re thinking in shape, and colour. You’re thinking in angle, and distance. And you’re thinking how all these things combine to give you advantage over the capable AI - but also how the AI is going to use the same mechanics to try to reach you.
There’s a story of course, and characters to care about, but functionally, it adds a natural linear progression that lets the player first come to grips with the basic mechanics, and then tackle things like ranged weapons and area-of-effect later on. Not to mention each character’s unique powers.
So, good ideas, good tactics, arguably more fun with a touch interface (and cheaper), but otherwise what’s the problem?
The problem is that this is just “Episode 1” of the game. Robot Circus claims 10 hours of content, but mobile players say more like six - in any case, the actual length is immaterial. Tell any audience that this full-price ticket only buys part of the trip to Earth, and they’ll get mad.
In some ways the criticism feels unfair: 10 hours of really clever tactical battles for US$15 is decent value. But three months after the iOS version launched, the fans are losing patience.
To play Ticket to Earth is to buy into the hype around this game. It’s an unashamed indie darling. It’s not just about clever mechanics, it’s a solid attempt at telling a story about marginalised people hitting back.
At one Episode, Ticket to Earth is worth the price of admission. Once all four are released, and assuming each brings fresh mechanics to the colourful grid? Then it’s an absolute bargain.