- Chuck Gray
Candy Crush Saga, the tile-matching clone of the classic game Bejeweled, is the most popular “free” game on Android and iOS. As a hardcore mobile gamer, I'm here to tell you there are far better alternatives to Candy Crush with deeper gameplay, better graphics, and, in a few cases, actual game narratives. While these games may cost you a dollar or three up front, they are, in the long run, far cheaper than Candy Crush's manipulative pay-to-keep-playing scheme. If you're looking for a good way to play with that new holiday tablet, check these out!
A good mixture of casual and strategic gameplay, Azkend 2 is a narrative-driven matching game. Players match hexagonal pieces with different symbols on boards of differing layouts for each level, meaning that when matches are made, pieces do not simply fall down the board as they would in a standard tile-matching game. Because the game pieces are hexagonal, you match them along angles, not just up-and-down or side-to-side. Stringing together several pieces unlocks powerful bonuses. With beautiful hand-drawn graphics, compelling gameplay, and a narrated story, Azkend is at the top of this list not simply because it’s the first title alphabetically.
Dungeon Raid is really easy, and it is really hard. You fight your way through an imagined dungeon. Different symbols on the board such as swords, health potions, shields, and gold will allow you to attack, defend, and collect money to improve your weapons, armor and skills. It is a turn-based game. After every attack or other move, you may in turn be attacked. The visuals are of the simplest caliber, and the sound effects to match your actions aren't exactly stunning, but the gameplay is undeniably addictive and fun.
Clash of Heroes is probably the most complex matching game on this list. It’s more accurate to describe it as a deep role-playing game whose battle system is a tile-matching variant. Borrowing from the popular and long-running Might and Magic RPG series, Clash of Heroes has you matching soldiers of different colors to perform attacks, magic, combos and defense. In addition to this battle system, players must hire and earn different types of soldiers and units, as well as buy equipment, to keep their armies up to snuff. Top this with a deep story that is the actual point of the game and not just an afterthought, and you’ve got one of the best matching/RPG/strategy games ever.
Puzzle Quest is, I believe, the first title that figured out that a tile-matching game holds far great potential than just, well, matching tiles. Puzzle Quest is similar to Clash of Heroes in that it is a mixture of tile-matching and role-playing. Where it differs is that instead of pitting armies against one another in strategic battles, combat here is one-on-one using a far more conventional Bejeweled-like game board. Game pieces are color-matched: different colors will activate different types of attacks or magic. Puzzle Quest 2 is also unique in that at the start of the campaign, you choose either a male or female character from four character classes. Each class (though not gender) has different strengths and weaknesses. The types of matching attacks performed will have different effects depending on which character class you chose.Puzzle Quest 2 is a good mixture of more casual matching mechanics and classic RPG tropes.
Matching games are sometimes mislabeled as “puzzle” games when really they are in a category of their own. Totemo, however, is a true puzzle game with matching mechanics, and it’s hard. Fun, but hard. Players must match the game pieces in such a way that there are none left when the level is finished. There is more than one solution to each puzzle, so your brain has room to really work rather than guess the exact solution the puzzle builders had in mind. Each puzzle's endgame is not unlike that peg game you play at Cracker Barrel, except that here you can’t get away with “purty smart.”
Treasures is the most casual title on this list. If you really just want to match gems without worrying about stories or RPGs or anything else, go buy this game. It’s pretty, it’s addictive, and it won’t hound you for money to keep playing.