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Brightly colored Spandex and match-three puzzling might seem an odd pairing at first, but digging into Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign yields addictive super-villain smashing fun in abundance. Between collecting virtual comic book covers to unlock new heroes and leveling up your posse with RPG-style enhancements, this free-to-play battler hits the nerdy sweet spot without going overboard in the in-app purchase department.
Dark Reign's familiar match-three puzzle combat should be nothing dramatically new to fans of the genre. It hinges on taking turns chaining together combos to deliver damaging attacks to foes until one side falls in battle. That said, re-skinning this long-proven formula with a classic range of Marvel heroes and villains does inject fresh excitement into the mix for comic aficionados. The branching story campaign sends you through numerous battle missions, which are strung together by short and often comical character interactions between friend and foe alike. While familiarity with the source materials is helpful to really get into the tale, the gameplay itself has enough hooks to keep you matching gems for hours at a time. Multiplayer matches also provide extra engagements to test your team's power and makeup.
In combat, your hero crew amasses gems with each damage-dealing chain you make, which eventually enables them to unleash brutal super attacks when enough gems of a certain color are nabbed. Your enemies can do the same, however, and clearing out the timed attack gems they drop onto the playing field at random makes for intense strategizing.
The encounters can get pretty tough at times, but the brisk challenge makes them punchy and exciting. Spending earned cash and purple crystals lets you purchase new comics to expand your hero squad, which adds a nice touch of authenticity. Meanwhile, fallen heroes are revived after a short timer, and their health slowly replenishes the same way. You can spend these resources to speed up the process, though a little patience will get you back into the fray in short order without having to buy anything extra. Leveling each hero up and expanding his or her powers is also a slow but rewarding resource-heavy process.
The bottom line. There's nothing revolutionary here, but Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign does a good job of spicing up the match-three genre for comic fans with its hero-centric nerdiness, tense combat encounters, and strong collecting elements.
iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch running iOS 5.1 or later
Excellent artwork and fun comic tale. Loads of heroes to unlock and battle with. Gameplay twists roll out at a steady pace.
Upgrading and expanding your posse can be a slow process without in-app purchases.