Matching With Friends
Has Zynga delivered another social gaming masterpiece?
I like to imagine that somewhere at Zynga's development HQ they have one of those manually-turned bingo ball dispensers that spits out a hot-topic idea for the next "....with Friends" concept, and a team has to then work furiously to come up with the best implementation of it that they can. If it turns out to be terrible, it's back to the bingo ball. Zombies with Friends! Vampires with Friends! Match-Three With Friends! Hmmm.
If you've played any of the previous "...With Friends" games then you'll already have an immediate understanding of how Matching With Friends works. You begin each game with a tile-based play area, and dotted around this grid are various multipliers which give a points bonus to your score if you managed to utilize them in your round.
In each round of the game, you're presented with three different pieces to put on the board, each of which is composed of three colored blocks. The objective of the game is to place these pieces on the board in such a way that you produce as many matching colors of three or more as you can. At the end of each round your score is tallied up and the game is handed over to your opponent
Even the match-finding interface is identical to previous games, so you can hunt for an opponent from your Facebook friends, enter a known user-name, or just throw yourself in at the deep end with the random selection option and be humiliated by a complete stranger. As always you can have a huge number of concurrent games running, so even if one opponent is playing slowly you won't be short of games to get stuck into.
The first few games we played were frankly rather dreadful. Obsessed with simply getting the highest score possible, and without considering the options we were making available to the next player, we were roundly trounced. As with "Words with Friends" it can be just as important to make sure that your opponent doesn't get access to those juicy multipliers, or leave a match-up heaven on the board that's just begging to be exploited.
You get a limited number of bombs per game which are very handy for destroying all of those annoying tiles that are standing in the way of your next master-stroke. Choose where to detonate the bomb and it will take out every tile adjacent to it. Every game you play also rewards you with a certain number of coins, and these can be used to swap out any clumps of color in your tile bar that really aren't going to work out for your current round.
As with previous Zynga Friends titles, there's an ad-supported free version of the game which is actually not too intrusive at all. Alternatively you can strip away all of that nonsense for a one-off fee, and somehow we don't think Zynga is going to struggle to turn a profit on this decidedly morish little game.
It clearly makes sense for Zynga to stick to a tried formula in both the style of gameplay and a recognizable interface that every member of the gaming audience has grown comfortable with, but there's no denying that the set-up is starting to feel just a little tired. Still, this is a very addictive little game that breathes new life into one of our favorite genres.
What's Hot: A new angle for match-three goodness, delivered with Zynga's trademark accessibility.
What's Not: A little too much familiarity in the concept and presentation. We'd also like to see a version that supports the iPad's resolution.