Put away Candy Crush. No, seriously. There’s a new kind of match-3 in town, and you’re going to want to pay attention.
It’s called Apexicon, and it’s Puzzle Quest meets Bookworm Adventures. What that means is that someone combined a love of role-playing games with wordplay. That someone is Jonathan Meyer and his indie company, Actos Games, which have taken to Kickstarter with a $15,000 campaign goal to bring the game to PC, Mac, Linux, and later iOS and Android — a fresh, welcome addition to app stores crowded with match-3-alikes. But even if you’re not much of a wordsmith, you may like what the developer is cooking up.
“I really love match-3 and games like that, Bejeweled, Puzzle Quest,” Meyer told GameZone. “Then it hit me. Puzzle Quest was a great game, loved by a lot of people and had a very long and interesting campaign backed by great match-3 to fuel your spell gameplay. Ours is different than most [word games] because [in those] you either have to ‘find the word’ in the box that they set up, which is usually predetermined, or a small box which limits the size of words you can create.”
Apexicon certainly oozes a Puzzle Quest vibe, but I wondered — how far will that take it? I asked Meyer what’s to stop players from seeing this as another boring educational game in disguise. He shared some cool ideas:
“One of my biggest thoughts was about how the combat needs to be visceral and dynamic, especially with effects,” he said. “It's just a word game at its core, but I want the combat to feel like you're squaring off with a true foe. … For example, one of the current effects to the Wordsmith's Sharpened Wit skill splatters the word entry box with blood, and when you hit the opponent with the charged-up word, it makes a ‘blood splatter’ come out of the opponent to signify you did extra damage.”
Other combat features are even more horrifying — at least as much as they can be for a word game.
“Some of the exciting effects we've been thinking of having include some psychedelic stuff akin to Eternal Darkness, where the screen goes upside down or letters become dark and you have no idea what you're using, and so on.”
The battle system is a big part of what makes Apexicon tick, and Meyer described it as robust. Damage depends on the length and number of vowels in a word, and classes have unique abilities.
“Depending on what offensive items and defensive items you choose, it can change how you make words, what words do when you make them, and extra effects on the damage you deal — such as poison, our special condition called ‘writer's block,’ and more. It's really strategic if you let it be.”
Meyer said the writer’s block condition, which is still in development, is “a kind of ‘stop’ mechanic where the enemy can't take turns for a certain amount of time, but for the player it's far worse, perhaps limiting the size of words you can make.”
Each of the four classes — the Wordsmith, Idiomancer, Plagiarist, and Verbinator — is different, and not just by way of special moves. For instance, the Wordsmith’s story begins with him fleeing from the Literati Erasers, who are the empire’s “stormtroopers.” No matter which character you choose, you’ll cross paths with the other classes and may even control them for a brief time.
If you’re worried about picking the wrong class the first time in, don’t sweat it. Actos has three post-game modes planned as stretch goals, and one of them lets you experience an alternate class in a fun way.
“New Game Plus is much like other games, where you continue on where your character stopped at with whatever upgrades you got,” said Meyer. “Ours is a little different as we decided to let you go through another class's storyline and essentially experience their story as your class. It's a very interesting idea, as you will see the NPCs and story change around the fact that you're doing what the other class would be doing, ending up in an ‘alternate universe’ storyline so to speak.”
Meyer described Country mode as similar to Fable 3’s post-game mode except, he said, it’s always available.
“As you gain the ability to build a town up in the normal game, Country mode takes that further as you expand your reach [and] garner trust from those who haven't trusted people because of the Literati Empire, and doing so will unlock more abilities, offensive and defensive items, give you side quests, and bring in more ink — the game's currency. We're looking to build in a system where you keep the people happy and get more or less ink depending on how well you do with that.”
Villain mode is crazier, he said. “Our main villain who's a little more of a jerk than a villain, has a whole backstory where he was experimented on that gave his ability to die up to a million times. There's a whole story of revenge, redemption, and just plain swagger to it. We think a lot of people would find it [fun] to play through the game as one of four villains and cross paths with their player character in a new way.”
Apexicon’s entire narrative is deep, with wordplay leaking out from battles and into other aspects of the game. If you’re a language lover, then you’ll probably find names like the Punctuation War and Abin D. Antz (a character who’s name is a pun on “abundance,” for good reason) delightful.
“Our thoughts on puzzle RPGs — and RPGs in general — is that your lore needs to be up to snuff before getting into it,” said Meyer. “The battles are a huge part, but we want the player to be engaged in the story. We want everything to have a rich history behind it so you can get the sense of enormity of your decisions in the game. There is a reason behind why the Literati Empire control all the use of magic words. There is a reason why your characters rebel against the social accepted norm of following the law.
“… We'd love to have the immersion go as far as possible,” he said.
Actos will seek feedback from fans “every step of the way” once the Kickstarter ends — if it’s successful, of course, which I’m hoping it is. The developer has set an $18,000 stretch goal for co-op and competitive modes, a $20,000 stretch goal for a Wii U version, and $35,000 for a PlayStation 4 version.
The New Game Plus, Country mode, and Villain mode stretch goals are pegged at $22,000, $25,000, and $30,000, respectively. Estimated delivery for backers is May 2014.