All prefaces about there being too many match-three puzzle games available on the 3DS eShop have been exhausted. While it still rings true that there is an overabundance of them on the digital marketplace, there's no use beating the dead horse that this genre and joke have become. The fact is that people love tile matching games, so developers are going to keep on making them. Our only hope is that the time and effort is spent on making them worth our while. Maximum Games was generous enough to do exactly that with the newly released Atlantic Quest.
A solid way to make such a bland genre feel fresh again is to develop a title’s outlying factors rather than strictly focusing on the gameplay. Puzzle Quest takes the match-three formula and gives it a fantasy RPG twist, engaging the player and cultivating strategic elements. Pokémon Link: Battle! uses a popular franchise to draw fans in, topping the game off with an additional layer of charm and familiarity. Subsidizing the gameplay by enriching the supporting features works for some, but it’s not always necessary. Atlantic Quest doesn't rely too heavily on the elements surrounding the gameplay to generate appeal, opting for a more basic take on the genre, but it does so with aplomb.
Like so many other tile matching games on the 3DS, the goal here is to combine tiles by sliding them next to each other via the touchscreen while racking up points toward your high score. The touch controls work well and are surprisingly tight for how basic they need to be, making the game all the more accessible. If matching three or more in a row isn’t your speciality, you also have the option of switching the gameplay to a mode that allows you to chain adjacent tiles by dragging the stylus, or you can simply tap on clusters of like tiles and clear the board that way. The goal remains the same no matter what mode you’re playing in, but being able to switch at will during any stage adds a level of strategy that can be useful for when you’ve seemingly swapped yourself into a corner. There are also special abilities linked to the console’s lettered buttons that help to clear out pesky tiles when you’re in a jam, more of which are unlocked as you progress through the game.
Tugging at the bleeding hearts of environmentalists, Atlantic Quest loosely implements a plot about an oil spill that is causing havoc to ocean-dwelling creatures. By matching specially marked tiles, you are actually cleaning up the oil spill and saving the fish and plant life that inhabit the deep. Stages are completed by clearing out all of the oily tiles and rescuing the required number of fish. There are 12 areas with nine stages plus a bonus puzzle in each, resulting in plenty of content with seemingly unlimited replayability for anyone hooked on the genre. There is also and in-game trophy system that rewards players for completing certain tasks, enticing the completionists among us to keep playing well after the stages have been cleared.
Like so many puzzle games on the portable console, all of the action takes place on the 3DS's lower screen. As such all of the different tiles are clearly displayed as distinctive 2D sprites rather than being rendered in 3D. The console's 3D effect doesn't do anything to alter gameplay, but it does add an attractive touch of depth to the top screen where your points and progress are displayed. It's not distracting, but it does enhance the already appealing layout. Naturally, tile matching games are not necessarily the most visually stunning games on the market, so there's not much to say about how Atlantic Quest looks beyond that it isn’t overly pixelated or carelessly compressed. For what it is and what it needs, everything looks and sounds great.
Atlantic Quest is a well-made game that has the unfortunate fate of existing in an all-too-often explored genre. As far as match-three tile puzzlers go, this one isn't exceptionally great, but at the same time it doesn't do anything inherently wrong. It plays well, looks good, and has an extensive amount of stages to work through, but it doesn't provide the variety or property familiarity that other games in the genre bring along with them. This isn't going to convert gamers who have been bored with the genre since SameGame back in 1985, but when taken at face value, tile-matching fans could do much worse.