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Old 03-31-2012, 07:03 PM
Big Albie Big Albie is offline
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Default Kitten Sanctuary Roars with Rewarding Match 3 Pet Sim



Many casual gamers have a natural affection for Match 3 which is a good reason why the concept has succeeded on the platform. The pick-up-and-play simplicity along with an engaging experience makes for an easy choice. Of course, the concept can quickly become stale if there isn’t a “higher purpose” to it. Kitten Sanctuary by Clockwork Pixels successfully uses a novel approach by combining a charming Match 3 with a personality-laden pet sim. While the cutesy title may dissuade some, it would be an understatement to say that they would be missing out on a very complete and entertaining game.

As the name suggests, Kitten Sanctuary centers on the protection of felines, and in this case, the enemies are catnapping aliens. Go figure how the devs came up with that storyline, but I guess zombies would’ve been too obvious. Aliens have gone around Kitten Island capturing kittens, and the goal is not only to rescue them, but also keep them fed and happy. The general objective of the game is Match 3 so the concept should be pretty inviting to those who enjoy this type of gameplay, but also to others who want a little more with their matching games.

Kitten Sanctuary has a lot of content providing 100 levels with three game modes—easy going, normal, and tricky. Easy going mode is an untimed experience that provides a number of power ups. Normal mode is timed and thus kittens face getting catnapped if levels aren’t cleared within the allotted time. Tricky mode provides a longer time limit although tile clearance is much more difficult.

The way to look at Kitten Sanctuary is as two separate parts—Match 3 and pet sim—since they are both different in what they offer. Yet, both parts impact each other over the course of the game, which is what makes Kitten Sanctuary such a rewarding experience.

The Match-3 part of Kitten Sanctuary offers some unique looking boards (aka Kitten Traps) each with their unique attributes that add to the overall difficulty. Visually speaking, Kitten Sanctuary is much more elaborate than you’d expect. Besides the colorful boards packed with items ready to be matched, the backgrounds are animated and entertainingly distracting. Often, kittens roam across the forefront of the board with aliens flying around in their ships in the background. Other times, it’s simply the carefree palm leaves motioning so there’s a good amount of detail included. Accompanied by a cheery soundtrack that by itself should lift your spirits, the sound effects are well balanced since they’re not meant to overwhelm but only set the stage.

As for the Match 3 gameplay, Kitten Sanctuary offers a well-balanced experience with the different modes and board designs. In each level, item matches must be strategically made and in addition to horizontal and vertical matches, the games allows for diagonal matches. Diagonal matching adds a nice element to the game and forces players to think differently. In general, items fall into four categories—food, drink, firewood, and credits. Food and drink provide nourishment for rescued kitties, while firewood keeps fires burning to keep them warm. Credits are gold and silver coins which can be accumulated via matches and used to purchase toys to keep kitties happy.

Within each level are gauges that track food, drink and firewood supplies. As matches of relevant items are made, the gauge gradually fills up. This is important as these supplies determine the health and satisfaction of the kittens in the sanctuaries. For players, this additional element makes every match as important as the next.

Each board contains a number of energized red squares, and in order to successfully clear a level, matches must be made within all of those squares. Eventually, certain boards will contain locked tiles that require matching to unlock. The degree of difficulty varies, but within a limited time limit and based on the design of the board, these can be quite challenging.

Kitten Sanctuary also incorporates a number of power ups which appear when match chains of four or more tiles are made. These power ups are activated by tapping them.

Shuffle—shuffles surrounding tiles
Bomb—removes surrounding tiles
Fireball—removes entire lines of tiles
Time—temporarily freezes the level timer
Locations—highlights matching tiles
Lucky—temporarily allows matches of any tiles

As a Match 3 standalone, Kitten Sanctuary is full of content and has enough variety to make it a terrifically engaging game. Because there are different modes, players should be able to find something that suits them. But, what further differentiates Kitty Sanctuary is the pet sim element which is charming and cute. As levels are cleared and kittens are rescued, they can be nurtured and cared for within one of four sanctuaries—Beach, Forest, Mountain and Lake—which are unlocked as players progress through the game.

The sanctuaries themselves are basically cat parks where the kittens can roam. Within each sanctuary, players can purchase items such as toys and decorations to spruce up the surroundings. Credits in the form of coins are earned both from completing levels as well as matches made during the Match 3 portion. Also, if you don’t manage to make enough matches to fill up on food, drink and firewood supplies, these credits can be used to purchase the necessary supplies.

What’s really neat about the sanctuaries is the amount of interaction that players can have with their feline friends. While I’m not a huge cat fan, Kitten Sanctuary really grows on you which is saying a lot. Each adoring kitten has unique personality traits and moods which require attention. Tapping on each kitten brings up short profile about their likes and dislikes, and the state of their mood. Also, events windows appear highlighting certain kittens that may require additional attention, whether it’s a nightmare or wanting more toys among other things.

You are more or less forced to nurture your little kitties by playing with them and in general, paying attention to their mood swings. Purchases within the shop such as balls of yarn, wind-up mice or bicycle horns can be used to boost their mood levels. The consequence of ignoring them is the kittens will take off leaving the sanctuary which you really don’t want. If enough kittens bail, you won’t be able to unlock other sanctuaries.

Kitten Sanctuary does have some minor issues worth noting. Sometimes, taps to switch tiles fail to register and require multiple taps. In addition, the game could use a zoom function not only during the Match 3 portion, but also for use with the rescued kittens in the sanctuaries. Another involves items such as trampolines and food bowls which for whatever reason players cannot move. While the game offers a trophy room for a number of in-game achievements, there isn’t currently any GameCenter support or achievements.

In general, Kitten Sanctuary is complete offering giving players the challenge of Match 3 play with the stickiness of a pet sim. The engaging gameplay along with the cutesy, yet endearing qualities makes this a gem. Every action within the Match 3 has a direct impact with the rescued kittens and vice versa which should appeal to gamers of all levels. Regardless of whether you’re a dog or cat person, the devs have done a wonderful job creating an entertaining experience.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (rewarding and engaging Match 3/pet sim that is as deep in content as it is in fun; game full of personality and charm with well-balanced difficulty; detailed graphics and animation with more than enough different twists and elements; in-game achievements but no GameCenter support; lite version also available)

 

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