Review: Heroes of Kalevala
Some things shouldn’t work well together. Putting together a Bejewelled style match three game with a 'Sim Village' system to keep score strikes me as a four o’clock in the morning idea that's just wrong. But much like Run DMC and Aerosmith, 10tons's Heroes of Kalevala makes it work thanks to a smart learning curve and a huge dollop of style.
Let’s start with the core game, the 'Match Three' game. This should be familiar to modern gamers - you have a game field full of playing pieces, and by switching over two adjacent pieces, you line up three similar shapes and make them disappear. New pieces flood in from the top to fill any gaps, and chain reactions can happen which look very pretty. (Fruitz, reviewed here, is probably one of the cleanest implementation of this genre.)
Kalevala improves on this by adding in power-ups, including: dynamite and bombs to clear a large area of the playing field, and Heroes with special powers (such as burning random tiles or flooding parts of the gaming field). Another improvement on the genre is the wide variety of playing fields. These get away from the regular rectangular shape, each with their own quirks and strategies required to efficiently clear them.
Yes, clear them! Even though all the gaps are filled in from the top as you play, when the game starts there is a yellow floor tile under each peice. These will be shattered if the playing piece on them is matched or destroyed. It’s these tiles that need to be cleared to pass each level. Just to make it more interesting, some of these tiles might have blocks of ice on top of them that need cleared by exploding bombs next to them first. There are padlocks too, which stop the playing piece on the top being swapped, and all the regular obstacles a game designer can hand you.
Kalevala does add to the standard match three game, specifically with the various game grid shapes that make you think a touch more strategically. It’s very responsive to player inputs as well, whicy is partly due to a capacitive screen and the graphics chip in Symbian^3 devices. Still though, developers 10tons have made sure they didn’t mess it up.
Finishing each game grid (essentially the levels of the game) naturally lets you play the next level, but it also hands you a little bag of money. The faster you finish, the more money; but take too long and it’s level over. You can use your money to buy huts, houses, trees, and items to colonise the new found lands of Kalevala. As you buy more infrastructure, more villagers will appear, and you’ll need to keep them happy as you expand the villages. It’s vital that you do this because you need a strong village to earn the right to use new heroes while playing the match three game. Eventually you can buy a colonist that can travel to, and open up, another village just over the horizon.
This is a unique way of keeping score, and is a big driver in keeping you playing. Rather than looking back after each level to see if you have made a higher score, which can get repetitive quite quickly, you want to get on with the levels so you can build up the village. This reversal of why you are playing the game is one of the reasons that I’ve been enjoying Heroes of Kalevala and should keep me playing longer than if it were a simple match three game with a local and global high score table.
On top of the well thought out game mechanics is the story of Kalevala. It's told through artistic still images that are slowly panned over, with a “friendly yet ancient and all-knowing” narrator's voice. It adds to the colour and struggle of the villages, at the same time as clearly introducing new game concepts and rules, as they are required. While seemingly superfluous to the actual game, it adds to atmosphere of the game. I suspect it also adds to the loading times, which is the wrong side of 'a bit too long' for my liking, but I can live with that ... this time.
Heroes of Kalevala is a slick piece of programming, with some great visuals and presentation. But it’s important to remember that all of this fails if the core gameplay is rubbish. Thankfully it’s not, this is one of the more innovative match three games out there. Pure game players might bemoan the added bells and whistles, but they can go and sit in the corner, because I think everybody else will love this.
-- Ewan Spence, April 2011.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at