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Review by BRETT WEISS: One of the geekiest things I do is keep track of my high scores on classic video games in a spiral notebook. Most any time I fire up a vintage cartridge or a classic console homebrew title that I enjoy, I’ll have the notebook open to my all-time high score on that particular game so I can try and beat it. This makes the game way more fun and exciting than simply playing it with no particular goal in mind.
With Match 5, a terrific puzzler from the good folks at Elektronite, I don’t consult my notebook. This is not because I don’t enjoy playing the game—I do. It’s because the game has flash ram memory, meaning you can save your high scores to the cartridge! (Yeah, I realize I just used two paragraphs to indicate that a game has savable high scores, but this is a big deal for a title produced for a pre-NES console, so deal with it. Um, please?)
Based on the 1992 computer game, Color Lines, Match 5 has the player moving game pieces (called alien spaceships in the manual) on a 9x9 grid (a spaceship wrecking yard), trying to create rows of five or more of the same piece horizontally or diagonally in order to make them disappear (the manual says you are linking five identical space ships to “blast them to smithereens with an electrical charge”).
As play begins, three pieces appear on the board. To move a piece, pick it up with the cursor and move it to the desired grid square. After your turn, the computer will place three more pieces on the board, and it’s time for you to move another piece. When you match five or more pieces in a row, they will vanish. After a move in which you make pieces vanish, three more pieces will not appear onscreen during that turn. As in Tetris and so many other make-items-go-away games, keeping the screen uncluttered is important. Once all the grid squares are occupied by a game piece, the game will end.
Instead of simply matching up five pieces each time, you should try to match up nine when possible. This is done by placing four in a row, leaving a blank grid space, and then placing four more in that row. Then, you can place the final piece and make all nine disappear. Making more than five pieces disappear is a key strategy in not only keeping the board clear, but in scoring lots of points. Five in a row nets just 10 points while six scores 25, seven scores 50, eight scores 75, and nine scores 88.
You can also rack up extra points by moving the pieces long distances on the board. For every space a piece is moved, you score a point, so if you move the piece to an adjoining square, you only score one. The pieces the computer places on the screen are random in nature. This, combined with the aforementioned high score tactics, makesMatch 5 an intriguing and challenging strategy game that is different every time you play.
Adding to the various strategies are bombs, which you can use to clear nine spaces in a cluttered area. Bombs are limited, so you should use them judiciously. If you play an entire game without using a bomb, you’ll get a medal in the high score table, so there’s another way you can challenge yourself.
Match 5 has three difficulty settings: Easy, Medium, and Hard, the latter of which is the one I prefer (Easy and Medium games take too long to present any kind of real challenge). There are two gameplay modes: Turn and Speed. In Turn mode, you can take as long as you like to plan your move. In Speed mode, however, you only have 15 seconds, meaning you must strategize very quickly. When playing the Hard difficulty setting, I prefer Turn mode so I can carefully plan each move. However, I play Speed mode every once in a while for a change of pace, or if I don’t have much time.
From a visual standpoint, Match 5 is far less ambitious than the gem in Elektronite’s crown: D2K Arcade. Instead of cute characters and different screens, you’ve got simple symbols, text prompts, and a single grid. However, this is not surprising given the nature of most puzzle games. A title like this doesn't need fancy graphics—the emphasis is clearly on strategy. In terms of audio, music plays during the title screen, and the sound effects are pretty basic.
In Color Lines, which is the title that inspired Match 5 (in case you’ve forgotten paragraph three already), the game pieces are spherical (they disappear when like-colors are matched up in rows of five or more). In Match 5, there are four different shapes that appear from the beginning: hourglass, mirror, mask, and ball. And there are four that begin appearing after a certain point total has been reached: clover (100 points), spaceship (400), wild card (600), and stack (900). A wild card can be used to substitute for any shape, which is a nice bailout when the screen starts getting crowded.
Match 5 may not look or sound much better than Chess or ABPA Backgammon when it comes the Intellivision library, but it’s a fine strategy puzzler that fans of the genre will thoroughly enjoy. It will put a pretty good dent in your pocketbook ($70 plus shipping), but it’s a title you’ll return to from time to time, and it’s packaged in a slick, classic-style gatefold box with a full color manual, a controller overlay, and a nicely labeled cartridge. All are made from new materials.
One thing that would’ve been nice is if Elektronite had added a two-player simultaneous mode to the mix. Not only would this would have separated Match 5 further from Color Lines, it would have added another dimension to the game. Even so, this is a fun, professionally produced title with ample replay value.
Match 5 by Elektronite
Programmed by Dave Akers
Programmed by Dave Akers