What happens when you take a real time strategy game and an RPG, and wrap it all up in the package of a casual match three game? A huge stinking mess without a clear direction -- at least that's what I imagined when I was told about Cavemania. After taking my time with the game, I have to say, I'm impressed.
From a studio founded by the co-creator of Age of Empires, BonusXP, and China-based publisher Yodo1, Cavemania defies genre. From the first deceptive look at the game, one can rightly assume it's just another highly polished match three-style game with cool artwork. However, the game is that and much more.
Similar to how Puzzles and Dragons, and, to some extent, Candy Crush Saga have a story, Cavemania has an overarching story -- except Cavemania's story is a bit more defined. Defined in the way that the story of Angry Birds is defined. Basically, your objective is to help your Chieftain reunite his tribe of cavemen. Like the aforementioned games, Cavemania's back-story isn't all that important to the game.
The game itself takes place on a grid where the player must connect three objects of the same kind. This is where Cavemania starts to deviate from the rest of the match-three games out there. When a match is successful, the objects become resources for the player. The resources are broken down into food, gold, stone and wood.
In addition to the resource gathering, the player is also given control of his Chieftain. This is where things get really interesting. The Chieftain can move one square at a time in any direction, making or breaking possible matches. The addition of the Chief isn't the only curveball on the map. On top of movable units, on certain maps, there are buildings that can be expanded into resource mines.
In later boards villagers, warriors, healers and various other characters make an appearance. These units each have a different special ability, most of which are pretty obvious. Like the Chief, they take up one space on the board and can move one square in any direction.
The cave people also provide the RPG elements of the game. Each unit can be upgraded a certain number of times. After earning enough in-game gold, or purchasing some via in-app purchase, you can level up the Chief and his tribe.
Mammoths, prehistoric rats, dinosaurs and various other primeval beasties are scattered on the map, trying to kill all the cave people on the board as well as destroy all their buildings.
One thing to keep in mind as the game goes on is that every successful match or move of a unit is one turn. Every board has a limited number of turns, and should the player not successfully reach the board objective, be it kill X amount of monsters or gather X amount of resources, the level is lost. Occasionally, when creating a big match of more than 4, the player is presented with a mystery box filled with resources, or sometimes even extra turns.
This creates a depth of strategy, forcing the player to decide between gathering resources early on in the game or moving the Chief to try to kill the monsters fast.
Luckily for players who enjoy puzzles and strategy, Cavemania operates on a life system. So unlike some other casual games that penalise the players for playing, Cavemania only penalizes the player when they fail. The player is given one life every 15 minutes, which can be stacked up to five. The timer continues to tick in-game or out of game. So, effectively, a player can beat the game in one straight sitting, providing they don't lose all five lives in the span of 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, after the first 30 levels a purchase or a Facebook bump is required for the next set of 15 levels. So, in a world and market already packed with match-three games, does Cavemania stand out and is it worth playing? The answer is yes.
While the game has a hard time completely separating itself from the pack of behemoths such as Puzzles and Dragons and Candy Crush Saga, it's not the same type of game. With its clever blend of RPG, RTS, and semi-tower defence, the game is a smorgasbord of genres smartly wrapped up into a match-three. It's simple enough for any casual player and deep enough for some hardcore gamers looking for a little more out of their secret love for Bejeweled.
Plus the little cavemen dances are kind of cute and stupid, in a good way.