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CONSOLE: iOS/Android DEVELOPER: Beeline Interactive PUBLISHER: Bandai Namco
RELEASE DATE (NA): April 12, 2016 GENRE: Match-3
// review by Jeff

I'll punish you with this puzzle game!

Holy Toledo, Bartman! There's a Sailor Moon game for [my mobile device]?! Why am I not visiting the [Mobile Device] store and downloading it immediately? Have I lost my mind? Yes, indeed, I'm playing Sailor Moon Drops, a Bandai Namco game about those lovable Sailor Senshi and all of their wacky adventures. This app celebrates the 20th anniversary of Sailor Moon, but I don't understand what's the 20th anniversary OF. The app was first released in 2015 in Japan, then localized for North America in 2016. The manga began in 1991, so that would possibly create a celebration toward the 25th anniversary of that. The anime series began in 1992, so... again, math...

At its heart, it's a Match-3 game. Before we continue, I'm very much aware that there are twenty million of these games out there that all do the same thing. But only ONE officially salutes the Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, and that MATTERS! Given a playing field, you shuffle around pieces to make matching rows or columns of 3 or more of the same symbol, and it disappears. More pieces come from above, potentially also falling in place to make further combos. You keep doing this until you succeed in achieving the stage's goal. Matching 4 or more gives you bonuses, including pieces that make entire horizontal or vertical columns disappear; the subsequent tiles that fall may then make additional matches for visually flashy combo chains. These are all basic Match-3 tropes, revisited yet again but with the Sailor Moon touch.

Goals vary by stage. Perhaps it's to clear a certain number of pieces; maybe it's to defeat an enemy by matching as many of certain types of pieces are you can; maybe it's to get cute accessories to the bottom of the screen to collect them. Whatever they are, your reliance on finding good pieces to match feels more like a reliance on luck for the right shapes to be in the right place at the right time. Do you need three moons to match to clear the stage? Anticipate those moons to never come when you need them. The game's notorious for NOT giving you the pieces you need very often. Again, typical Match-3. And with a set number of moves allowed per stage, you'll get frustrated in no time.

Bandai Namco also has dropped in a few extra features. Though you start out as the Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, progressing through the game also unlocks more characters. Sailor Mercury comes first, followed by Sailor Mars, and so forth. Work hard, and you can level them up for new moves and *gasp* POSES! Just what I needed! They're really driving this point home on the official website when one of the three bulletpoints about the game is "Watch the adorable characters perform their Special Moves!" It's just a flashy way of making stars, moons, and teardrops disappear. You're not kamehameha-ing your way through a dozen Queen Beryl clones or anything of that nature.

The website also indicates the game's genre is "Easy and Refreshing Puzzle Game". Is it, now?


Who's hungry for buns?

There are also, periodically, limited-time events that may unlock additional characters. I only started playing shortly after Christmas 2016, so I missed many of them, but the one I did encounter, "The Lover of Princess Kaguya", unlocks the human form of Luna the cat. That's something. Also available are special items that can aid in your play, such as those that remove a tile should it be an impediment to success.

Beyond the simple facade of being a Match-3 game, the only other saving grace lies in the occasional event scenes between the various characters, which doesn't happen often. Fans will get a small kick out of them, but the dialogue is so blandly translated, most people will want to skip it just to get to the next stage. Otherwise, everything about it reeks of cuteness and, dare I say it, "kawaii". Any time you are engaging in a stage, one of the Sailor Senshi, wrapped in an air of adorableness, will be watching you, cheering you on, as you are rained upon with the brilliance of those deep, illustrious anime eyes. The 3D character models have taken on a more chibi persona, which is great if you love that style but a bit of a boot to fans of the earlier days of Sailor Moon anime and manga.

As to be expected with this type of game, in-app purchases are abound, and limitations for non-paying players stick out like a gangrened thumb. You start out with five hearts, and should you fail to clear a stage, a heart is taken away. Lose all hearts, and you can no longer play the game unless you regenerate more hearts or literally pay money for more. Hearts take a half-hour each to rejuvenate, so if you're that desperate to play more Sailor Moon Drops, you'll be shelling out your hard-earned dough. I just wait the two-and-a-half hours. I could probably do something more useful in that time, like work for money, play a more rewarding game, or lay face-first on a firm mattress. Should you fail a stage, Tuxedo Mask will offer you more moves for the cost of 10 gems. Gems are NOT a dime a dozen. I've been playing for a significant amount of time, and I still only have 8 gems to my name. You can buy more with real world money. I won't.

Sailor Moon Drops gets rather addictive, as do most games of this genre, but that's not to say it's perfect. Loading times slow down the pace considerably, even just to start the game up or to get to the map. Another bloodcurdling aspect to Sailor Moon Drops is something that should be programmed out. Every time I make a good combo of multiple matches, one of the Sailor Senshi pops up in the middle of my game to say something mundane like "Good!" or "Miracle!", disrupting the flow of play. Minor though it may sound, any joy I'm having is instantly cut short with that pop-up. Other than these irks, it's a competent way to guzzle up your [mobile device]'s battery life. Considering how similar the games are within this genre, you'd be hard-pressed to find one better or considerably worse. And if you're a Sailor Moon fanatic, having them on the go to yell motivational slogans at you in Japanese just might help get you through that tough day in the cubicle.


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