Matchmaker: Dungeon Heart Hands-on Preview – Swiping right

Posted on November 26, 2023

PAX Aus might be over for another year, but there’s still this one game that has its hooks in my brain and it could only be a romance sim. Matchmaker: Dungeon Heart is a cosy spin on the match-3 puzzle game genre that is so easy to fall for. Coming from the glorious gems at Ghost Moth, this one is a potion of genres that adds the perfect fizz to an already eclectic narrative and cast of characters.

Matchmaker: Dungeon Heart is a narrative-driven dating sim mixed with a familiar match-style turn-based combat game. Every match gives the combat an edge, controlling what you do on your turn. Watch the trailer and see if the game is a match for you!

In case you need the game described in another way, it’s essentially Candy Crush with a gooey romance sim centre – yet it’s got all the heart you’d hope for in a game about finding love. Just when all hope is lost, you are given a second chance at life by a powerful Lich. Soon you’re thrust into the world of match-3 combat, taking on fierce foes and romancing a gorgeous bunch of eclectic characters along the way. Matchmaker: Dungeon Heart allows the puzzle gameplay to fuel the narrative in a way that is entirely unheard of to me. Playing the demo, I immediately felt invested in the interactions as I’d really earned them by completing the match-3 combat sections.

While I originally got the opportunity to play the dating sim at PAX Aus 2023, the team informed me that they had a 90-minute demo on Steam that I was determined to crack into to see more of the game. To say that I’m very glad I did is an understatement. While the demo at PAX was a great little cross-section of the game’s main mechanics, the Steam demo allows itself more time to grow on the player.

Matchmaker: Dungeon Heart starts out acquainting you with the game’s match-3, turn-based mechanics. Players learn about each of the tiles present on the board and how they allow the player to cause various types of damage and other effects to the opponent. It’s not long before the game takes a sharp right turn and it’s true self is even more evident. After being murdered in a brutal match-3 game, players are revived. All that is left are your bones. It’s only now that the dating-sim really begins to open it’s heart to you.

The game is very queer-friendly and body positive with a roster of characters that can be romanced or befriended however the player wishes. The game treats its characters as people who aren’t just boxes to tick. In the demo, I was really impressed at how well-rounded and responsive they were in the dialogue sections. Ghost Moth really wanted to emphasise that process of building connections with the characters, not just grinding down a romance tree.

Matchmaker: Dungeon Heart began development around 3 years ago as an idea during lockdown that snowballed out from there. The game was awarded funding to build itself out into the cosy game that we now know. At PAX Aus, I spoke with a game designer and programmer from the team, Haydon Bakker, about the game’s journey. He was eager to share the team’s gratitude for being funded by Creative Victoria and Screen Australia. “That funding got us here, showing our game off at PAX Aus, and we’re looking forward to releasing the game next year”, says Bakker. There are currently 9 planned dateable characters in the game with potential for extra characters to romance such as the game’s villains in post-launch content. Many players at PAX were perhaps a little too into the game’s villains—enemies to lovers, anyone?

It is important to note that each playthrough of the game only allows you to date one of the characters. This means that in order to experience the entire story of each character, you would need to play the game multiple times. However, I think this is not a bad thing, as the match-3 gameplay is very satisfying and becomes more challenging as you progress through each playthrough.

From the very beginning, Matchmaker: Dungeon Heart aims to capture your heart, and I must confess, it has won mine over completely. While this dating-sim and match-3 hybrid might not appeal to everyone, the gameplay mechanics are just as fun as getting to know the game’s characters. I’m excited for when it releases so I can experience the full game. The Ghost Moth team has poured their hearts and souls into creating something truly unique and remarkable. Their passion for the dating sim genre is evident, and I highly recommend playing the Steam demo if you’re curious about this type of game. I am confident you’ll be adding this one to your wishlist!

Ghost Moth plans to release the game in early 2024 on PC. You can find the game on Steam here.