Lots of dumb things happen in our dreams, and for the most part we should ignore them. For example, I often dream about the giant spaces between my apartment walls and the hobos that live there. One of my best friends from high school regularly dreamed about an old man reading a book by candlelight, page by excruciating page. Dreams are often only interesting to the dreamer, but occasionally some gold can be dug up from a seemingly random, chaotic assemblage of our brain dumps.
Steven Zavala of Flyover Games is one of the lucky few to have mined gold from his subconscious. The core idea of his latest game, Wavecrash!!, came to him in a splash of moonlit REM images: a wild group of characters running around a checkered board throwing waves at each other. Sometimes it’s just that simple.
Wavecrash!! is a rectangular ring, stocked with two opponents dashing around and throwing swells of energy at each other. Steven then spun the wheel a bit further, turning the checkered board into a match three game. He cites a combination of Bubble Bobble and the Mega Man Battle Network games as another inspirational metaphor, but the game has since discarded the Bubble Bobble bits with an eye towards the weird puzzle heyday of Nintendo DS and PSP games like Lumines and Meteos welded with a tweaked puzzle fighter feel. That genre clearly anchors the idea of this game, but it doesn’t play like any other I’m familiar with. Wavecrash!! has each player match three or more colors on their own board in order to send that same number of squares flying at their opponent. If the wave connects to the other player’s avatar, they’re hit and lose some health. First to go down loses the round.
Whereas other competitive puzzlers are more about sending piles of garbage to the opponent in order to overwhelm them, Wavecrash!! demands more immediate tactical awareness. You need to watch their avatar, while moving yours in order to both dodge and match tiles, as sending waves willy-nilly won’t consistently score hits. Larger waves move slower and are easier to dodge, unless you’re keeping a keen eye on the board and able to pin the other player into an hazardous position. Overwhelming force is always an option, but a well-timed strike is much more satisfying and ultimately necessary to win against a player with any modicum of skill. The fighting game, a mere metaphor for competition in many other puzzlers, is a much more literal layer in this game. The puzzle is the board, the source of each fighter’s ki, and simply matching the most colors at one time won’t do much good if you aren’t aware of your and your enemy’s positioning.
Wavecrash!! is built for the resurgence of hectic couch co-op, where trash talk and good-natured spittle-flecked victory chants make a night. There are currently seven different scrappers to choose from, each with a different “hype mode” ability that charges up over time and can of course turn the tables of the match. As such, Steven likes to consider this the “hypest puzzle brawler” and I’m very tempted to agree. It’s still in development and as such is still lacking a robust AI opponent, but there’s a tutorial and a survival mode for when you need to train up against the friends and roommates who you drag into the ring. This game is deceptively simple like the most delicious puzzlers, the kind that are difficult to conjure with any long-lasting substance. Wavecrash!! has the potential to ride out the swell, threading the needle of match-3 games and that sweet, grid-based Battle Network combat.