App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
User Interface Rating:
Replay Value Rating:
I'll be the first to admit that seeing a game with match-three or Threes!-like mechanics generally illicits a groan from me. There are simply too many of these kinds of games regurgitating these puzzle formats with little to no innovation. Rocco's Island: Pocket Edition is different, though. While there are plenty of arguably rote and tired puzzles in the game, they are contextualized within an adventure filled with a lot of twists, turns, and heart that make for a special experience worth playing.
Rocco's Island: Pocket Edition starts out looking like a run-of-the-mill point and click adventure game. You play as a young woman who has woken up on a mysterious and magical island. Shortly into this visit, she rings a bell that initiates a world-ending set of events that she immediately wants to stop with the help of a little magical companion who alerts her of her mistake.
From there, you tap to wander around and island answering riddles, completing match-three puzzles, and reaching score goals in 2048-style challenges to uncover the mysteries of this island and prevent the doomsday countdown you unintentionally initiated. Along the way, you meet all manner of magical creatures like the hand of the king who is literally a large, disembodied hand or a large talking fossil that has been around long enough to see and record the entire island's 30,000 year history.
Matching with mystery
Although the puzzles in Rocco's Island: Pocket Edition are not particularly elaborate or original, the context in which you are completing them is. The entire island is full of bizarre secrets and goofy characters, and if you make your way through the end of the game there is a pretty satisfying (though convoluted) narrative payoff.
It also helps that Rocco's Island: Pocket Edition has an interesting structure. Due to the world-ending nature of the bell, you are actually given a limited number of lives to complete every puzzle in the game upfront and you draw down from this pool if you happen to fail any challenge. This raises the stakes of what are otherwise generally pretty standard and familiar puzzles in a way that is fun while also not feeling overly punishing.
Putting the pieces together
It may sound weird for me to be praising a game with unoriginal puzzle design, a convoluted story, and--as I'm just now about to mention--a strangely low frame rate, but somehow everything Rocco's Island offers combines to elevate its high points and minimize its uglier aspects.
Part of this could have to do with the fact that this is perhaps one of the most ideal candidates for a mobile port I've seen. The relaxed and familiar puzzle-based gameplay feels better suited to playing on a phone or tablet than just about anywhere else. It's not a perfect translation, but players can get a really great sense of whether what Rocco's Island: Pocket Edition offers is for them or not thanks to its free-to-start model that allows players to complete basically the first quarter of the game before asking $ 4.99 to unlock the whole thing.
The bottom line
Somehow, Rocco's Island: Pocket Edition is enjoyable despite itself. I'd even go as far to say its odd combination of puzzles and story make it particularly special. It's not often this happens with games that base a lot of their gameplay around tired match-three mechanics, but that is just a testament to how this game has found a brilliant use for such a worn out concept.