I’ve taken about five brief breaks while writing this review to play You Must Build a Boat (#ymbab). The game has its hooks in my brain. Yes, EightyEightGames’ latest title really is that good and this is coming from someone who has never been a big fan of puzzle games.
While the puzzle role playing game (PRPG) genre is relatively established in the video game world, this is the first time I’ve played a game of this type beyond dabbling with 10,000,000 for a brief period a few years ago.
Sometimes it feels like every video game wants to borrow something from the RPG genre. Most modern racing games task the player with levelling up their vehicle, and sports titles seem to always want you to increase your players’ attributes.
This is far from a bad thing, though. RPGs offer some of gaming’s most compelling experiences, and have an interesting way of motivating the player to continue pushing forward with incremental rewards.
EightyEightGames’ You Must Build a Boat continues the trend of infusing RPG gameplay elements into a puzzle game in the best way possible. But why are you building a boat in the first place? The game cheekily reminds you of your ultimate goal after you complete every level as well as during its intro sequence, but you’ll never be given an answer to the question above. The amusing air of mystery surrounding exactly why you’re building a sea bearing vessel only adds to #ymbab’s appeal.
You Must Build a Boat is a continuation of 10,000,000, EightyEightGames’ first genre-bending triple tile-matching, endless runner-puzzle game, and anyone familiar with that particular title will instantly feel right at home with #ymbab.
In You Must Build a Boat the player is tasked with matching a variety of different types of tiles in rows of three while an adventurer progresses in a small box on the top of the screen. You’ll encounter enemies that are weak against magic attacks (which means you’ll likely want to match three staff tiles), and treasure chests (which force you to match keys).
If you take too long to find a corresponding triple match (or more than a triple match), your character will lose ground and slowly shift to the back of the screen. If you completely fall off the display your run is over, although the game still amusingly says, “You Win” at the finale of every attempt. Simple mission objectives are also thrown into the mix and often involve matching a certain number of tiles. These goals help ensure you always have a reason to continue playing You Must Build a Boat.
There is also a lot of variety in You Must Build a Boat, especially for a puzzle game. Every monster you encounter has specific weaknesses and strengths, and the better you memorize each enemies’ characteristics, the more successful you’ll be. (On your boat there is a quirky character named Woodward who explains each foe’s stats.)
You Must Build a Boat’s strategic tile-matching system gives the game a sense of purpose (and sometimes urgency when I needed to find that last set of keys) I’ve never felt before in a puzzle title. You aren’t just working to clear a screen or towards a high score – two main goals in most puzzle games which have never quite clicked with me. For someone who has never really understood the appeal of puzzle games, this new spin on the genre is definitely welcome.
But while You Must Build a Boat shares similarities with 10,000,000, EightyEightGames has added a few features beyond just a pixelated boat when it comes to the developer’s puzzle formula. Traps are a new addition in #ymbab, hovering over your character’s head at random and holding an icon you’ll need to match in a short period of time. Items, such as magical spells, a bow and arrow and scrolls, are also now part of #ymbab’s puzzle grid, rather than items laid out across the top of the screen like in 10,000,000.
Your ever-expanding boat also allows you to upgrade your spells, staff, and sword, and even recruit enemies you’ve encountered in your travels, Pokemon-style. These creature then help you in battle, giving the player even more reasons to continue playing. The only issue I have with #ymbab is that you can’t play it in landscape mode, a small but frustrating oversight for a title where seeing your entire play space is so important.
You Must Build a Boat is one of those rare games I completely misjudged after watching its release trailer. Initially I thought EightyEightGames’ latest title was just another pixelated retro-infused platformer looking to capitalize on the people’s nostalgia. Thankfully, #ymbab is significantly more than this.
In fact, I’d even say it’s the first game to make me finally understand the appeal of the puzzle genre. Whether you’re a fan of puzzle games, or just pick-up-and-play mobile gaming in general, you’ll find a lot to like about You Must Build a Boat.
You Must Build a Boat is available on iOS for $3.49, Android for $3.79 and Steam for $5.49.