Every time I think I’ve tapped out of the ability to play another match-3 game, some indie developer comes along and tries to shake up the formula in a way that piques my interest. It last happened to me back in May with the PC puzzler Bret Airborne, and now Evodent Interactive and Dark Spark Studios have released Max Rush for iOS and Android devices. Can this fast-paced arcade-style puzzle game possibly find itself a niche to stand on its own? The answer is yes, in a small degree, but not without a lot of rough patches.
Max Rush changes up the standard match-3 rules by making the player an active character on the screen. As wave after wave of monsters make their way down from the top of the screen, the player (in the form of a helmeted knight) throws weapons at enemies in order to kill them and make them disappear. It’s in this manner that combos of three or more enemies can be set up. Occasionally, elite monsters start appearing shortly into the game, and most of these require multiple hits or certain types of attacks in order to be destroyed. The reward for taking these special monsters out are one-use power-ups that do everything from providing a temporary shield to stopping time for a few seconds so that the player can make adjustments. Kill enough enemies and the titular Max Rush special power becomes available and lets the player unleash a flurry of weapons all over the screen. Should the enemies advance to the bottom of the screen, it’s game over. The rules are simple and easy to learn, which is what one would expect from this genre.
The intensity of the game really cranks up a few minutes into each playthrough. More and more of the elite enemies appear, providing tougher targets while also inflicting their own special abilities. Some throw arrows which forces the player to quickly dodge or else be stunned. Others speed up the advancing ranks, bringing the player that much closer to their demise. The increasing – pardon the term – rush of the action also makes it play like a completely different game. Action unfolds so frantically that the player will really no longer be able to focus on creating combos by targeting individual enemies. It becomes more about grabbing the power-ups and repeatedly using those as soon as the game allows, all while waiting for the Max Rush power to become available to save the day. Although it veers away from the match-3 concept at this stage, I found the challenge of juggling the increasingly fast-paced action the most enjoyable part of playing the game.
While that gameplay shines, the presentation leaves a bit to be desired. Even though the art assets are serviceable, some of the sound effects included quickly became repetitive and grating to the point that I played with the volume turned down. It appears the developers used free assets from an outside source, and unfortunately this is one area where they might want to consider personally handling the work in future games.
While Max Rush is an entertaining experience, it’s also a shallow one. The game plays well enough, but there’s no hook, no endearing characteristic or interesting personality. I point to PopCap Games as the gold standard for their ability to create simple casual games with an element of charm to keep a player coming back for more. There’s not much of that here. In-game and GameCenter leaderboards do help to add some incentive for replays, but I occasionally encountered application crashes when going for high scores. This was an incredibly frustrating pattern, but everyone’s experience playing the game may be different. Overall, I’d offer up Max Rush as a borderline recommendable game. It doesn’t stand head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, but it’s generally an enjoyable time waster if you happen to stumble upon it.
This game was reviewed using the iOS version. There is also an Android version available.
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