Cave Quest 2
Cave Quest 2 is an excellent puzzle adventure match-3 game and overall a very well made game, albeit a tad difficult but one that I greatly enjoyed. In fact, I was so hooked up after the first few levels that I decided to play through the entire first game before continuing with this one.
Cave Quest and Cave Quest 2 are pretty much identical in concept (although some of the mechanics were redesigned and improved in the second installment of the series) and can be played individually – there is no story connection between them and each one is linear (you can’t replay an already completed level). Both look a lot like a HOG and play like one, except for the fact that the hidden object scenes and any kind of object interactions / minigames have all been replaced by match-3 levels. You visit several locations and pick up various objects that you store in your inventory for later usage and you solve puzzles using these items, which in turn triggers match-3 levels. However, there’s much more to it than that.
Apart from the classic match-3 levels in which you need to break tiles / chains by creating matches on top or around them or moving a certain item to the bottom of the level, there are some special levels encountered when you visit a new location for the first time, called “pathing” levels. In these, you have to guide the main character along one narrow path, making matches in front of them to clear the road. The path switches direction from time to time, and so do your matches. Additionally, in Cave Quest 2 these levels have become much more complex and maze-like – inside one level there are multiple crossroads, and you can now choose the direction in which you go next; there are more obstacles and it takes significantly longer to reach the end objective. Nevertheless, they’re super fun to solve and unique.
Both games use a turn-based battle system – whenever you encounter a major enemy, you’ll be prompted with a special match-3 level in which the player and the opponent take turns in matching tiles from the grid; some matches constitute an attack, others will heal, and a third type will build up towards a shield that reflects the enemy’s attacks. Both you and your enemy can use power-ups to trigger combo matches, thus increasing the damage / healing done during your turn. Each boss has a specific set of attacks / spells that they cast on you, therefore each of these levels is individualized and plays differently.
Due to that, there’s a strong RPG feel, and especially in Cave Quest 2 where the reward mechanic that you gain from completing a match-3 level received a redesign. In the first game, the rewards were coins that you could then spend in the shop to unlock or upgrade power ups, but also to buy items necessary for story progression. In Cave Quest 2 though, the player also has a leveling system and completing a match-3 game will award a certain amount of experience points, depending on your performance and difficulty setting. Every time you level up, you will be prompted to choose an upgrade to an already unlocked powerup / passive perk, or unlock a new skill.
In terms of difficulty, there are major differences between the two games. Cave Quest is a fairly easy and moderately long game (5-6h to complete), while in Cave Quest 2 there are not only 3 main difficulty modes for the adventure component (affecting how you see the available actions on the map or how fast the hints recharge), but you can also pick between having limited time to solve a level, limited moves, or neither of them. For the first 2, there’s an additional scoring system (“mastery”) based on how many times you fail a level or how efficiently you solve it. Unfortunately for achievement hunters, playing the game with each of these modes is required (therefore at least 3 playthroughs, if not even more). On top of that, there are specific requirements for hard mode combined with reaching certain mastery values. Overall, Cave Quest 2’s levels are notably more difficult even for easy modes; they require an increased amount of matches compared to the first game, thus it takes much longer to solve one level (for example, you often have the grid completely covered in tiles that have to be broken by making matches two or three times on top of them, or they are covered with double chains / spiderwebs etc).
In Cave Quest 2, the levels bring all sorts of surprise objectives – the grid isn’t even completely revealed at the start; some parts of the level “appear” after you reach certain conditions, while other levels “shift” some of the tiles into other types after some time. Because some of these parts are hidden, the complete list of objectives is not visible any more (as they were in the first game), and the game lacks a way to display the overview of your progress (how many tiles you still need to break, how many items you still need to bring to the bottom etc.). The overall game progress that was displayed as a percentage on the map of the first game has also disappeared – there’s no way now to see how far you went with the game, apart from checking the in-game walkthrough that can be accessed from the main menu.
If you’re an achievement hunter, then be warned that you’ll struggle a lot with the achievements. Apart from the ones related to the various difficulty modes which are very tough (mentioned above), there are several missable achievements that depend on pure luck and a good configuration of tiles, which in practice has very little odds to happen. I would go as far as saying that some of these achievements are almost impossible to obtain, due to the extreme requirements. For example, dealing 25 damage in one turn when you’re allowed to do one match only per turn and which generates 3 damage means having a configuration that allows chaining at least 8 of these on a grid (that is tiny) and that usually has around 5-6 damage tiles available (the red ones from the screenshot below), out of the 24+ needed. Plus, you have only one chance at it since you can’t replay a level. Combos are a must, but since making matches of 4 or more tiles does not produce a special item that explodes a row / area, their usability is limited.
Cave Quest 2 is a better product in terms of features (there are collectibles and achievements now, various secrets, more complex levels, an in-game guide), and graphics (although depending on your taste, you might prefer the hand-drawn art from the first game as opposed to the polished, stylized, sharper graphics of the second one). On the other hand, Cave Quest 2 is a much more difficult game (which can turn into frustrating at times), yet a longer one.