Puzzle Craft is the epitome of corporate casual gaming. It takes an established idea — in this case the excellently endless Dungeon Raid variation on match-3 games — and adds long drawn-out grinding to encourage micropayments and a coat of spit polish to stand in for value.

Not that it’s entirely ineffective. The basic minigame works well enough, adapted to the concepts of farming and mining. You draw a line to connect contiguous icons on a grid to collect them, at which point new icons drop into the grid. After a certain number of moves, you spend the resources you’ve collected to build buildings to gather more kinds of resources to build more buildings. The limit on moves is the game’s cleverest bit. Farming is time limited based on seasons, and mining is time limited based on the amount of food you bring from farming.

A lot of the game is spent messing around on a city display, crafting tools from a list, and hiring workers, all of which make incremental improvements to the basic minigame. But nothing changes in any meaningful way. You need cats to eat the rats in your fields, and then you need guns to shoot the wolves, but they’re ultimately the same thing represented by different icons. But if you just want to get the new icons faster, you can just buy them and bill it to your iTunes account. Hint, hint, says Puzzle Craft.

Dungeon Raid was based on building up your RPG character and earning high scores. But with its crass Farmville skin, Puzzle Craft is ultimately a variation on one of those godawful free-to-play play-now-m’lord microtranscation boondoogles. It’s like a time waster wrapped around a time waster. Time wasters all the way down.

2 stars