If you're a serious gamer (my wife prefers the term "certifiable"), you probably find yourself tracing the lineage of games you enjoy. You do that, right? Please tell me I'm not the only one.
Certain genres lend themselves especially well to genealogy. We can track, for example, the platformer line from Donkey Kong and observe it slowly metamorphosing all the way to Super Mario Galaxy ... branching at Metroid, spawning Castlevania (with a self-contained lineage all its own), branching again at Super Mario 64 - whose 3D design and mechanics clearly influenced non-platformer Ocarina of Time, which forked the Zelda series (with a self-contained lineage all its own)...
Well, you get the idea. It's fun to do and often leads to animated discussion among longtime gamers. "Pikmin is a Nintendo-ized version of Populous mixed with Lemmings." "What? No it's not!"
I've been thinking about genre bloodlines lately, provoked by one of my favorite recent DS games: Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. If you haven't played it, I strongly recommend you grab a copy...or hold off until later this summer when developer Capybara releases its HD version for XBLA and PSN. For what it's worth, the DS edition is my idea of a perfect portable game: conducive to quick bursts of challenging play with achievable short-session goals. Simple mechanics, elegant gameplay. Pause wherever, resume whenever. Perfect.
This post isn't intended as a review, so if you'd like an evaluative essay on why Clash of Heroes succeeds so thoroughly, I recommend Brad Gallaway's review over at GameCritics.
Clash of Heroes is a genre mash-up: a puzzle-strategy-adventure game with RPG elements. But mostly, CoH is a Match-3 game, and unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last decade, you know all about the Match-3 genre. According to developer PopCap, a Bejeweled game is sold every 4.3 seconds, translating to sales of over 50 million units.
Tally free-to-play versions on the internet, trial downloads, and PC pre-installs, and an estimated half-billion people have played Bejeweled in one form or another since its release in 2001. We've been playing variations and transmutations of Bejeweled ever since:
Add Tetris-style falling blocks, a launch mechanic, and an emphasis on speed, and you've got Meteos.
Change the falling blocks to 2x2 squares, add a music and rhythm component, and you've got Lumines.
Translate the Match-3 puzzling as combat, set the game in the Warlords universe, add quests, EXP, classes, and side missions, and you've got Puzzle Quest.
Reformat it for the iPhone, add a time-lock and tilt-screen controls, and you've got Aurora Feint.
Shift the RPG to the Ultima/Wizardry end of the spectrum, add turn-based strategy, army recruitment and resource management, and you've got Clash of Heroes. Voila! Bejeweled begets Clash of Heroes (with many incremental steps omitted in my brief, admittedly simplified account).
But hold on there, pardner. We started with Bejeweled because it's the 800 lb. gorilla of Match-3 games, but PopCap hardly broke new ground there. Gamers of a certain age may recall Pokémon Puzzle League, a Match-3 game for the N64, which appeared before Bejeweled and was essentially a Pokémon-skinned version of Tetris Attack for the SNES...which itself was a Yoshi's Island-skinned version of Panel de Pon, a Match-3 falling block game never released in North America.
So it all goes back to Panel de Pon, right? Actually, no. As far as I can tell, the first electronic Match-3 game was Shariki developed for DOS in 1988 by a Russian programmer named Eugene Alemzhin. Before Shariki, matching colors vertically or horizontally was strictly a tactile experience.
Matching them diagonally, on the other hand ... such nefarious strategies are best left to sneaky siblings.**
**Readers under the age of 30-something are advised to play the above clip.
Are you interested in video game genealogy? Does it influence your choices or your perceptions of the games you play? If so, I'd love to hear about it.