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Puzzle Craft

Despite the proliferation of console-style games on the platform, iOS gamers still generally run in different packs from the broader gaming community. Playing on your iPhone or iPod Touch has, in the past, been mostly considered a way of killing time, but publisher Chillingo’s latest offering promises to steal away every last waking moment of your life.

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Puzzle Craft (affectionately dubbed Puzzle Crack on various websites and forums) is yet another evolution of the match-three formula. In the case of Puzzle Craft, players are tasked with gathering resources in order to build up their tiny settlement into a bustling civilization. Everything from the balance of gameplay and incentives, to the music and visual presentation are finely tuned to darn near pitch perfect.

Beginning with a single hut and a small handful of workers, Puzzle Craft walks you through the basics of farming, mining and construction. Heading to the fields to farm brings you to the game’s first of two puzzle areas. Here, you’ll gather wheat, carrots, chickens and other goods that will feed your townsfolk. Once you’ve gathered enough food, it’s off to the mines to scrabble for various types of ore and precious metals.

The actual puzzle gameplay of Puzzle Craft is identical in execution to that of Dungeon Raid. Match at least three of a particular resource, connecting as many as you can in a single pass to fill up your stores. However, the game also borrows from the likes of Triple Town, allowing you to create new, more valuable resources by matching a specific number of tiles.

At first glance, Puzzle Craft comes off as a novel but somewhat shallow affair. After a few seasons of play, however, the game sinks its hooks in fairly deep. New buildings will allow you to nab fresh resources or scare away pests while farming in the fields. Skilled workers can be hired to lighten the load, requiring fewer resources to fill stores. Specialty buildings can equip you to gather two different resources at once, or rid yourself of dangers in the mine.

Therein lies the rub…

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With new buildings and workers always just a few resources away, Puzzle Craft quickly becomes a game of “just one more turn.” The developers of AT Games have managed to whip together a perfect batch of gaming addiction.

Of course, less patient players can buy resources at the market, selling surpluses of wood and hay to make ends meet. There are in-app purchases (IAP) of gold as well, but I never felt the slightest need to spend more money on the game. Buildings cough up free tools every couple of hours, and if you budget your gold strategically, you’ll never get stopped in your tracks.

Though there is much to celebrate when it comes to how well Puzzle Craft executes the big considerations, the little things are far from forgotten. There are many small details that help elevate this particular match-three puzzler a step above the competition. Highlighting possible matches makes gathering resources less a chore, and a comprehensive layout of your stats allows you to track your progress with ease. Puzzle Craft is the whole package done right. Just when you get to the point of feeling you’ve perhaps had your fill, the adventure winds down with a happy ending.

As fun as the busy work of Puzzle Craft can be, it wouldn’t be half as enjoyable were it not for the lovely presentation. Screenshots don’t quite do the game justice, as the hand-drawn visuals are detailed and animate beautifully. The game is backed by catchy music and delightful sound effects, though themes do get abruptly lopped off when entering either of the game’s puzzle areas.

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Unfortunately, Puzzle Craft also has a few bugs that need to be worked out, some serious and some not so serious. I experienced several crashes when I would run out of moves during puzzle play, but some players have been reporting a complete loss of their game saves as they reached the higher levels. The developers have assured us they’re hard at work on a hot fix, and additional content is also being considered for future updates.

In spite of a few unfortunate hiccups, Puzzle Craft is quite simply one of the best games I’ve played on iOS this year. It might look like a freemium design from afar, but it has much more to offer than simple social trappings. The game’s a well-oiled, spit-polished masterpiece of casual gaming that needs to be on your iOS device.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in August 2008.

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