Review: Tiny Token Empires
Making a match 3 game these days has become something of a ubiquity in much the same way that side-scrolling brawlers and 2-D platformers have. Do a quick search of PSN, XBLA, Steam, or any downloadable games marketplace and you’ll find several games within the span of a few seconds. The most returned result will probably be Bejeweled, indeed due to it’s immense popularity and all of the spin-offs and clones that have been made. And therein, as they say, lies the rub. There are so many games of this type that it’s difficult to sift through which ones are good and which ones are bad. Oftentimes to make your game standout, you have to do something interesting or marry the core mechanic of a match 3 game with something people haven’t seen before. In the case of BiP Media’s Tiny Token Empires, the core match 3 gameplay is paired alongside a turn-based strategy game. The result is a genuinely original idea that doesn’t fully execute on its premise.
In Tiny Token Empires you take on the central ruler of a great civilization such as Rome, Greece, Egypt, or even Mythological Monsters, a campaign exclusively available to the PS3 version of the game. Your objective is to conquer your opponents by marching through territories, conquering enemy cities, and also killing roving barbarian hordes that are encamped in unsettled areas all through the use of tokens. For anyone who has played a Total War style PC strategy game, the map, unit types, and general strategy should be familiar. Each campaign features four missions (with the Roman campaign acting as a tutorial) ]. Conquering territories via combat or traversal across the map generates money that can be used to build cities. Cities can then be upgraded with buildings that allow for different unit types to be built. You can also build defenses for the city in the event that the enemy should lay siege to it and give you a fighting chance to prevent them from conquering it. However, unlike the Total War games, there’s no real micromanagement to speak of in TTE. Instead, the real bulk of the strategy comes from the match 3 gameplay.
Every time combat happens the game loads into a match 3 gem set where both players take turns making matches by rearranging two adjacent gems. The whole point of this is to get matches that are the same color as the gems next to the unit portraits in your army. As an example, the generals need three coin type tokens in order to power up for an attack. Similarly every unit has this same mechanic which means that the faster you can match stuff together, the more attacks you get in on your enemy. However, this logic falls apart given the turn-based nature of the game. In games like Bejeweled, a major part of the excitement of playing that kind of game is that you can rapidly make matches in order to create combos. In TTE, the object of each round seems to be finding a way to make a match 4 so that you can get an extra turn while also somehow finding a way to combo in other matches to power up your troops. Unfortunately most rounds end with only one match 3 which makes combat move at a downright glacial pace. Outside of combat there is also an additional puzzle type when treasure or other random events occur which requires you to rotate blocks of four tokens in order to make matches. These particular mnigames are played against the clock and move at a much quicker pace than the main combat match games.
Tiny Token Empires also suffers from some significant button input/detection issues when on the main map screen. At all times the game will have a button legend in the lower left corner of the screen informing you of what actions you can perform such as examining units or diving into your cities to upgrade them, but more often than not pressing a button when this legend is present has no effect in advancing the menus. At first I thought this was a loading issue with the game having to stream in the next menu and so I proceeded to wait. After a few seconds with no loading icons or animations, I pressed the X button again, but again there was no effect. Eventually this devolved into me hammering on the X button in an attempt to advance the menus and getting absolutely nothing. One solution to this that I found was to move off the territory to allow the menus to reregister the inputs from the controller. In some extreme cases, I had to quit out of the campaign entirely. The whole issue with the controller just smacks of the game having been made by a team that understood how to make games for a touchscreen or touch-based input device instead of an actual gamepad. Indeed, a quick examination of TTE on iOS immediately felt more responsive and fluid from a control standpoint.
Worse still Chris and I tested the multiplayer suite only to find it unable to connect the two of us. One of the major reasons for this is that TTE completely lacks any ability to invite a friend into a multiplayer match. We were also unable to tell if the versions of the game from different stores were incompatible or if the online suite is just busted as Chris was playing on the EU version while I was playing the US version. We’ll update this particular section if we hear differently over the course of the next couple weeks, but if the issue is related simply to version incompatibility then the multiplayer is broken for a much worse reason: no one is playing TTE online.
Even ignoring these technical issues, the fun of playing the game is a fleeting experience that can’t sustain the entirety of the campaign. The technical flaws make the $9.99 asking price a huge leap of faith on the part of the player. Tiny Token Empires is an interesting experiment and an original idea, but it needs to be reworked in order to increase its appeal. If BiP Media makes another one, here’s hoping that they seriously take the time to make a more technically proficient game that has gameplay elements to help compliment it. However, if you simply must play this for yourself there is a demo available. I would also go so far as to add that you may want to consider buying it on another platform.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- The 2D artwork looks nice and compliments the game's sense of humor.
- The game definitely wears its influences on its sleeves.
- An original idea that tries to break up the monotony of match 3 games.
- A good selection of civilizations to choose from.
What I Dislike:
- Controller input problems that seem particularly bad on the main map screen.
- As of the time of this review, the multiplayer seems either dead, busted, or both.
- The experience gets stale fast.
- Building up combos for the match 3 games is tough when done in a turn-based fashion and relies more on luck than skill.
- Overpriced for depth of content being offered.