Doctor Who: Legacy – comprehensive review

Doctor Who is the longest-running science fiction program on television. But until Doctor Who: Legacy came along, you’d have been hard pressed to find a videogame adaptation that came anywhere near the series’ quality or one that properly reflected the decades-spanning scope and wealth of characters that make up Doctor Who.

This free to play puzzle game from Tiny Rebel Games will wow fans with fan service galore, though long-term enjoyment depends on one’s tolerance for match-3 puzzles and user interface quirks. Head past the break for the most detailed Doctor Who Legacy review in town!

Puzzle games are cool.

Doctor Who: Legacy

Yes, like so many mobile adaptations of popular shows and movies, Doctor Who: Legacy is a match-3 puzzler – this one with Puzzle Quest-style battles. Each character on your team – or should I say the Doctor’s team – has a color attribute. Making matches with three or more of one color will cause any characters with that color to attack during a turn. Pink gem matches heal the team.

All of your teammates have a special move they can unleash after you make enough matches with their individual colors. These include such effects as dealing extra damage to an enemy, healing the team, eliminating one color of gems from the field, or changing gems from one color to another. Activate as many moves as you want during a turn by tapping the charged up characters’ portraits.

The real twist in Legacy’s puzzle combat is that unlike traditional match-3 games, players can move a gem more than one space over during a turn. You can move a gem across the entire field to make a match, even diagonally. Players also have the option of moving a gem to another location without making a match, perhaps setting up a more advantageous match for the next turn.

These mechanical changes give Legacy a slightly different feel than games like Bejeweled. Although many of us have played match-3 games TO DEATH, we’re probably not used to looking more than one space over and/or diagonally when seeking matches. Not that the puzzles here feel all that dissimilar to other genre entries, but at least the developers tweaked the recipe’s ingredients a bit.

Three seasons of puzzles

Doctor Who: Legacy

Legacy’s campaign is divided into three series. First up is series 7, followed by 6 and 5. The purpose of the reverse numbering scheme eludes me, as the game seasons don’t seem to match up with the show seasons at all. But each season does offer 40-69 individual levels, most based on stories from the newer Doctor Who series (and even its spin-off Torchwood). Levels consist entirely of sets of battles, so don’t expect exploration or side tasks.

Some levels have story content, delivered via text conversations between the Doctor and his companions. These intermissions will be a highlight for fans. The actual Doctor and companions who appear in the scenes are predetermined and won’t reflect any changes the player has made to the lineup, but such is needed for narrative coherence.

Although the large number of levels is impressive (177 at present!), the actual level section process is not. It’s difficult to tell which levels you’ve completed and which you haven’t. Most games with a level select feature will distinguish complete and incomplete levels in some way – but not Doctor Who Legacy. Every level looks the same on the list, differentiated only by name and the items that can drop within it. Changing the color of the level’s icon or adding a “Complete!” designation would cut down on the confusion.

Characters, team selection, and artwork

Doctor Who: Legacy

Without a doubt, Legacy’s biggest draw is its arsenal of playable characters drawn from the Doctor Who universe. Ten of the 12 known Doctors can be unlocked so far, including my favorites the second and third Doctors. Players can only have one Doctor on the team at a time, and he doesn’t affect the actual team stats or HP.

But the Doctors all have two powerful special moves instead of one like a regular companion. The downside is you can’t choose between which move you get at any given time – the game alternates between them, whether or not both moves will be useful within that level. We shouldn’t get stuck with a Weeping Angels-specific move in levels that don’t have Weeping Angels, for instance.

The team’s actual stats are determined by the five companions you pick. Legacy offers a total of 83 companions (some of which are variants of the same character). Most can be unlocked by completing specific levels, as random drops, or via In-App Purchase. Assembling a dream team of your favorite characters from the likes of Jack Harkness, Sarah Jane Smith, K-9, Martha Jones, and even a few enemies is just too cool. You will need to consider each character’s color attribute and special move if you want to succeed, however.

Speaking of team selection, the actual UI for viewing and selecting characters needs improvement. You assemble the team in the Team menu, but you can only view character portraits, color attributes, and experience levels from that menu. To actually view a character’s name, profile, and special move, or to level up that character, players must enter the separate TARDIS menu. Since knowing special moves is essential when assembling a team, this forces a lot of back and forth between menus. Update: Long presses on the characters at the bottom of the Team menu will display their special moves. Not intuitive. A proper context menu within the Team menu would cut down on the tiresome navigation by a country mile.

Doctor Who: Legacy Amy Pond potato head comparison

Finally, many of the characters scarcely resemble their real-life counterparts. The inequity is most apparent on the actual welcome screen/main menu. Nobody looks much like anybody in that group shot – least of all Amy with her lumpy misshapen head (pictured above). Some of the dissimilarity might come down to rights issues... But I hear from the community that the characters who are present *have* been signed off on by their actors, so who knows.

Purchases and promotions

Doctor Who: Legacy

If you don’t want to grind your way towards your favorite character, most can be bought within the game Store for a few time crystals, the game’s premium currency. Players will earn the occasional time crystal as a random drop, but for the most part they have to be bought. Buying $5 of crystals also unlocks the Fan Area, with 22 exclusive levels so far and lots of guaranteed character drops – a must-have for serious players.

Time crystals are also used as continues. But to its credit, Legacy is one of the few free to play games nowadays that doesn’t utilize an energy system. So if you fail on a level, you can just retry it right away without the punishment of having to wait for energy to recharge.

The Legacy team also gives out characters and costumes with unsurpassed regularity through their Twitter, Facebook, and Twitch channels. These promotions seem to inspire a rabid and enthusiastic community. To actually get the giveaway items, players must enter 16-digit codes.

Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but entering the codes is an annoying process because the game’s software keyboard is non-QWERTY. Wouldn’t it be faster and easier to let us use the native Android keyboard? And the codes don’t clear away after you enter them, so you have to manually erase them or back out to the main menu if entering more than one code at a time.

You were my Doctor... Who game

As someone who plays a lot of games, Doctor Who Legacy’s numerous UI issues actually make it harder for me to enjoy the game itself. I’ve played Japanese games with better menus and QWERTY keyboard support, and Japan is not exactly the UI capital of the world. But the developers update Legacy all the time, so many of these issues could be ironed out in the future.

That’s my critical side talking. The Doctor Who fan in me is consistently amazed by the game’s arsenal of characters and levels inspired by the show. No other game has managed to capture so much of the Doctor Who universe in a single package, with callbacks to both the classic and modern eras. Tiny Rebel knows and appreciates Who. That genuine reverence makes Legacy a must-play for fans of the show.

Paul Acevedo