Review: Triple Town

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What is with our predisposition for match 3? What purpose does it serve our primordial lizard brains to delight us when we put three of something together and watch it disappear? Whatever the reason may be, the game industry has seized upon this weakness with terrible force, compelling us to crush candies and swap orbs and do all sorts of ridiculous things to rack up points. Triple Town would be no different, save for one additional level of complexity that adds a unique hint of progression to the formula.

Rounds in Triple Town take place on small islands, gridded off for you to set your plants and buildings on. You’re given something to place, anything from a tuft of grass to a sturdy oak to an entire house, which you can put on any open square. If three of the same thing end up adjacent to each other, such as three bushes, they combine on the spot of the last one placed into the next level of thing, such as a tree. In this way you can work your way up from grass to bush to tree to house to mansion to castle and on. Most of the time you’ll be placing grass but you occasionally get higher-level objects straightaway, which you can use to your advantage or store in your single storage spot for later.

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There are other factors at play, such as bears you must place that move about and block your construction, or crystals that act as wildcards, combining with any two other things to complete the set. Your goal is to amass points and reach certain milestones like Settlement and City, and the simple challenge of trying to finagle everything into place is honestly enough to keep you going. You’ll slowly start puzzling out how to plan your grasses ahead to get the bushes in the right places to get trees where you want, and then realize you need to plan even further for the houses that the trees become. There’s a remarkable amount of planning and strategizing involved, as well as the challenges of unexpected bear or crystal appearances.

All this would make for a fine coffee-break puzzle game, at least for awhile, but there’s thankfully more to it than that. As you play, you obtain special items like farms and ores that cannot be used in normal maps. In between rounds, you travel to your capital city where you can place these to grant you additional resources periodically. These resources come in the form of items that can be used during rounds to place certain clutch objects when you need them most. The capital follows the same match-3 rules as well, meaning placing your special items intelligently can yield much greater returns. Triple Town basically gives you a hub city to develop which provides resources that makes the individual puzzles easier, allowing you to earn more items to develop your hub. It’s a brilliant little gameplay loop that can keep you hooked for want of one more upgrade to your city.

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It’s almost a perfect package, but I must admit the presentation drags it down a little. The actual feel of Triple Town is like that of a Flash game, trapped in a static windowed mode with simple vector graphics and animation. There’s almost no polish to the menus or buttons, either, which makes them feel more like developer placeholders than finished products. The sound is adequate for what it is but does nothing to alleviate the otherwise cheap feel of the game. Coming off of titles like Mini Metro that manage to be simple AND stylish, Triple Town can feel a bit disappointing. Still, the core mechanics are plenty solid and the progression systems are very addictive, so if you can look past the presentation you’ll have a lovely little timesink to enjoy here.

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