This game's clever premise, gorgeous art, and fresh take on match-3 gameplay make it a standout even among much bigger games. The space magic premise of The World Next Door will surely win over would-be planet-hoppers, and if it doesn't, the colorful, anime-style graphics are sure to seal the deal. Art and design are stellar here, and the vibrant color palette (taken right from a candy box) screams "magical world." The dialogue keeps things familiar, though, and characters contend with the same relatable fears most teenagers face. The talky bits are good, but the action sequences are even better, thanks to a smart reimagining of match-3 gameplay. Match-3 becomes combat as the heroine dashes around what looks like a light-up dance floor, casting spells by matching colored runes. And though her squad tends to stand by and let Jun do the fighting, she can activate their unique skills by matching runes so that they form special shapes. The process makes combat fast-moving and challenging, and though controls are simple enough (provided you use a game controller; keyboard controls are not so good), winning takes forethought and quick reflexes. Beyond combat, this unique matching mechanic is also used for slower, more cerebral puzzles.
With such a heady mix of graphics and gameplay, The World Next Door should be perfect. Unfortunately, the writing knocks it down a star. Not the writing as a whole; the story's interesting and the dialogue's funny and believable. The problem is that a core mystery is established at the start of the game that begs for resolution, but in the end it remains unsolved. It's a surprising let-down that could leave a bad taste in your mouth after so much time spent getting invested in the characters. Still, even with this disappointment, The World Next Door is great-looking, interesting, and fun, and interplanetary travelers will agree it's well worth a visit.