System: iOS | Released: November 2020
Developer: Gabriel Palomino | Reviewed On: iOS
Over the years, the appeal of puzzle games has never waned on me. There's something stimulating about the genre’s design that requires the player to use forward thinking & problem-solving in order to progress. This is something I gravitated towards as a child; playing Tetris on my Game Boy, attending chess club in primary school & the countless hours playing Solitaire on the family computer. I felt empowered not just by its entertainment value, but the challenge it presented to me. In recent years, I've found most puzzle games can often mirror each other in terms of formula or presentation. So when something unique & fresh presents itself to me, it garners my attention.
Today, such a game has peaked this reviewer's interest; one that incorporates a unique puzzle experience, complimented by a integral story & utilising a distinctive art style that distinguishes itself from other mobile games. Welcome to my review of the iOS mobile game; Queen Rules.
Starting with the game's story & concept, we enter a world comprised of several kingdoms; starring the gracious & benevolent King & Queen of Hearts. With rulers appointed to each of its seven kingdoms, the world has maintained a state of peace & harmony for centuries. Until one day, an evil witch proceeds to place a dark curse on the world; placing these kingdoms into a state of despair. Backed by their legion of dedicated soldiers, The King & Queen of Hearts decide to take it upon themselves to visit each kingdom & eradicate this curse; hoping to return the land to its previous state of tranquillity.
First acknowledging that the monarchy is based on a playing card suit & with the soldiers sharing a resemblance to The Playing Cards featured in Alice in Wonderland, we reached out to Gabriel Palomino, creator of the game, for clarification. We were delighted to learn that it was indeed this particular Lewis Carroll novel that inspired its premise. Gabriel kindly explained to SkyPunk Media his thoughts surroundings his concept & its incorporation into the game’s puzzle format:
“The inspiration for the story of the game came in some way from the book "Alice in Wonderland". We loved the idea of the Queen of Hearts spreading love, instead of being the villain. We thought about a world where she is the hero and saves the world; like in a parallel universe."
"Alice in Wonderland has not only inspired quantum physics, but it's also a very spiritual book. "Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle." - It's inspired children to think about their identity, but in a playful way. We believe the game showcases this approach & allows the player to enter the world of logic & numbers in an accessible way. We wanted to show that numbers can be fun & there is a lot to explore in that direction."
- Gabriel Palomino, Creator of Queen Rules
There's inherently a level of intrigue when the concept of an original story is provided with an alternate premise. One of my personal favourite examples is Telltale's The Wolf Amongst Us series; inspired by Bill Willingham's Fables comic book series, where figures of fairy tales & folklore are presented from a different perspective. With Queen Rules, this attractive aspect was acknowledged. Experiencing the various adaptations of Alice in Wonderland over the years, I could already hear The Queen of Hearts' hot-headed temperament ring through my brain. But here, the Queen is the polar opposite; helping her fellow soldiers when needed, breaking a smile when a kingdom is freed from the witch's spell & with the support of her husband by her side. She appears as a figure of strength and warmth, which allows her to be depicted in a more positive light & presenting herself as a role model.
The Witch acts as an opposing antagonist, representing the negative aspects of the world & how her power can influence it. She plays a key role in the premise of the story & with the rulers gravely affected by the curse, the game's plot shows how a powerful attribute can break down communities & bring with it a state of uncertainly, which could be perceived as a metaphorical representation of our current global climate.
Whilst its story itself is not explicitly stated through on-screen exposition, it finds alternate ways to present this through its presentation; a risky but effective choice that presents a wholesome journey & a moral theme that trivially plays into aspects of humanity. The game's ending also provides gamers with a surprise; one that will influence the future of its kingdoms. Given the strength of its story coupled with its finale, it leaves the game open for a potential sequel if desired.
In terms of gameplay, its design takes inspiration from a variety of classic strategy-based games. Over the game’s 150+ levels, you'll be presented with a playing board with card soldiers placed in specific spots. Each of these soldiers are assigned a number, representing their value & how many soldiers can be placed on the board from that spot. By placing your finger on the soldier & swiping them over available squares on the board, they will begin to fill these spaces. Your objective is simply to fill the entire board with soldiers until they all carry the value of one. As you progress through these levels, the puzzles will increase in difficulty through different playing boards & soldier varieties.
There are three main varieties of soldiers in the game. The King's soldiers (Blue) can move across rows and columns, but cannot be merged with others once placed. This differs from the Queen's soldiers (Red), who are granted this merging ability but only with soldiers next to them of the same numerical value. Finally, we have the Witch's soldiers (Black) which you must remove from the board, in order to complete the puzzle. This is done by placing a soldier of a higher value next to them & then taking their place on the board with some rewarding you with hearts, which play a role in each of the kingdom's final levels.
"The game's concept has some core similarities to Chess, which is also a great inspiration in itself. We like it to the feeling of a battlefield; towers fighting against horses. In some way, soldiers become a figure depending on the number they are assigned, which limits their movements & how they fight on the battlefield. Those were enough similarities to make flight to our imagination. When designing these levels, we imagine a battlefield & give a role to each of the soldiers."
- Gabriel Palomino, Creator of Queen Rules
The levels themselves have been crafted in a accessible manner; designed & positioned to allow you to pick up the experience from scratch, even if you have minimal puzzle-game experience & without the need to go through a tutorial. It gradually introduces new elements over time with simple-yet-effective hints shown on-screen. Certain design choices also allow the player to focus & enjoy the problem-solving experience without the presence for unnecessary pressures. These include some levels that can being completed in multiple ways, the non-presence of a time limit & options to reset a level at any time or undo actions an unlimited number of times. It results in a gameplay experience that can be played by people of any skill level & of any age; staying true to Gabriel's vision of accessibility. Its steady difficulty progression, coupled with the promotion of learning through practice, is something I highly commend.
Overall, my experience was of a highly addictive nature. It kept me in a mentality of "...I'll just play one more level", which is always a positive sign in my eyes. My only tentative thoughts were that the game only has one difficulty level & as a 30-something puzzle fan, I found that its earlier levels were very simple to begin with, however this changed later on with a healthy dose of challenge in its latter stages. I would've also liked to have seen a little more variety in terms of the soldiers or puzzle types, but this absence did not negate my experience in any way. On reflection, I found the game to well-designed & a pleasure to play through.
Finally, let's take a look into its presentation. As you power up the game, you will immediately be greeted with a spectrum of colour & detail. Rather than basing its visual design around an common digital art style, the game's characters & set pieces are crafted physically using polymer clay; handmade by Berlin artist, Larissa Honsek (aka Novemberkind). You only have to initially look at the images in this review to see the results of her multi-layered approach. The elements of her creative process produce some wonderfully vibrant & detailed pieces that not only attract your attention, but gives the game a level of visual distinction that stands out amongst other games in the genre.
Each of the kingdoms includes these elements whilst showcasing their own unique settings that help to portray the King & Queen's journey of liberation; from Aztec empires to deserts & wintry mountains. The use of a softer colour palette only adds to the calm atmosphere the game embraces the player with. Without the presence of any bugs during my playthrough, I was delighted to see this unique visual approach in a video game & thoroughly impressed with its implementation.
To help compliment its visual aura, the game opts for a soothing wave of sounds from British musician, Thomas Williams; providing a calm atmosphere that perfectly compliments the game's setting. Whether its the sounds of the high seas as you enter the game or its blend of wind & string instruments that play throughout, they allow you to relax as you prepare for the puzzles that await you. A perfect complimentary choice in my eyes.
To summarise, I am in awe of this game's beauty. Even with little details such as the added attention-to-detail of the characters, the use of sound effects after completing a level or the fluency of its animations & level transitions, it's the sum of all these elements that only helps to strengthens the game's integrity & unique identity.
Queen Rules is a wholesome product of inspiration & refinement; creating one of the premier puzzle game experiences in recent years. The game opts against the use of standard conventions in support of a unique gameplay style that's both logical & stimulating, a prominent presentation style that feels fresh & appeals to the senses; all wrapped up in a heart-warming story fronted by an empowered female figure, who loses her unmerciful stigma in favour of an inspirational personality that drives the game towards its conclusion. It’s also the degree in application & precision, both visually & in gameplay choices, that helps to create this integral & widely accessible puzzle experience.
Puzzle fans can enjoy the sense of a fresh gameplay experience with challenges along the way. Children can be taught how to use numbers whilst being visually taught first-hand of the pursuit of liberation through endearment in the game’s plot. Parents can also embark on this journey with their children & help them out at a time of need; just like the Queen helping the kingdoms at their time of need.
If you are a fan of the genre or may be tempted to enter this rewarding world of puzzle experiences, I highly recommend you check this game out & for its price point, you will be given several hours of premier-quality puzzle time that won't fade away; like the curse you will aid to extinguish.
If you're further interested in the game's story or its creative process, be sure to out the official Queen Rules website, as well as the game's Instagram & Twitter profiles for more information & updates. As of writing this review, Queen Rules is available to download here on the Apple App Store for £1.99 for iPhone & iPad devices.