When it comes to motivation to replay a game, points don’t really mean all that much to me. Give me a secret to find, however, and I’ll go through a game again and again and again until I track it down. Some games come right out and tell you there’s stuff hidden in a given level, while others treat their secrets like buried treasure waiting for an intrepid player to stumble upon them. You Must Build A Boat does a bit of both, which is why I’ve played it through to completion eight times. Maybe nine.
YMBaB is a clever twist on match-3 style gameplay. You are, as the name implies, building a boat by finding things better sails, wind to fill them, and a crew. You do this by running through different environments, like a wizard’s tower or a pagoda, defeating monsters and opening treasure chests. Matching sword tiles attacks, matching key tiles unlocks, and so forth, but you’ll also have to collect brains and brawn to upgrade your skills as well as make wise use of special items like food or arrows to clear a path all the way to the end of a given area. It’s fast-paced but also requires a touch of planning, which is a big ask when a dragon is beating the snot out of you.
Somewhere along your travels, you will accidentally stumble upon one of the game’s many secret unlockable characters. A handful of them pop up by completing certain ordinary in-game actions, like using a particular item at just the right time, or attacking a specific monster with magic. Play for long enough and you’ll inevitably run smack into one of them, and your surprise will immediately turn into delight. Oh! I unlocked a secret thing! Wait a minute...THERE ARE SECRET THINGS IN THIS GAME???
Oh, yes. There are.
You’ll fill out most of your boat’s eclectic crew of monsters simply by completing the many stages of the game. They admire your gumption and decide to tag along. You have to pay in brains, brawn, gold, or all three to actually get them on board, but they’re well worth the investment, as they provide permanent buffs. Once you encounter your first secret unlockable monster, however, you realize that there are far more crew members to collect than you originally thought. Their silhouettes taunt you from the menu. Where could they be lurking? You can narrow it down a little, as some monsters only appear in certain levels of YMBaB, but what then? And thus the experimentation begins.
Instead of hoarding food for when you really need it, you try eating everything at once because, hey, maybe a calorie overload appeals to a mummy, who knows? Attack a mage with arrows instead of your sword. Set off every trap on purpose. What used to be a methodical progression through a level is now a hotbed of ideas. Maybe collecting a whole lot of gold will entice the dragon. Or maybe I should try doing something when I’m back on the boat! And on and on it goes, completing the game and starting over, testing out new ideas and feeling like a genius every time one of them reveals another hidden crewmate.
Back in the beforetime in the long long ago (aka my childhood), I learned to wring every last drop of entertainment out of a game, as getting a new one was a rare treat. I’d play with the controller upside down, or make arbitrary rules like no health power-ups allowed. My alterations created new ways to play the game and kept me interested. Well-hidden secrets do much the same thing for me now, even when I have thousands of games at my fingertips. They encourage me to change the way I play the game, so not only does it feel fresh, but I get a prize at the end! I mean, some people would say playing a good game is a prize itself, and I mean... sure. But prizes are better.
You Must Build A Boat is one of the special games that never, ever leaves my device. Having found every last one of its secrets, I feel a particularly strong attachment to it that goes beyond the quality of its gameplay. I’m genuinely fond of YMBaB and its motley crew. How could I ever say goodbye to them after working so hard to meet them all?Read more of Susan Arendt's columns on Pocket Gamer, and find out more about You Must Build A Boat at the official site. Other smashing opinionmongers around these parts are Harry Slater and Jon Jordan, so have your bookmarking finger at the ready.
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