Everybody knows Candy Crush and all its clones, past or future. Based on a gameplay that has been bequeathed generation after generation since the dawn of video gaming, and so shall it be till the end of times, match-3 games can be generously considered the standard in casual gaming.
Then, two years ago Japanese developer GungHo released Puzzle & Dragons, which wasn't a groundbreaking new concept at all but raised the bar regarding gameplay difficulty and reaching the vague limbo of gaming. Players used to the match-3 mechanics found a new world with enemies to be defeated and prowess stats to be enhanced instead of "clean the screen" mechanics. Puzzle & Dragons lookalikes () have become pretty popular and fill a key market niche.
For those of you interested in bringing your match-3 experience to an upper level, either because you need to take a break from hardcore gaming or because popping candies is definitively not enough for your privileged intellect, here's a brief list made of outstanding -and free to play- advanced match-3 games. By the way, "advanced match-3 game" is a term we have just coined for this article in the absence of a better tag.
Puzzle and Dragons (aka PAD)
First off, what is already a reference in the genre, here for completeness.
Hero Forge isn't strictly inspired by match-3 games, but by something more ancient: Mahjong, that devilish game we used to play when we get bored of Solitaire and Minesweeper, so to speak. Add some 3D-ness, character creation and a gameplay based on duels and here it is a whole new concept ready to be enjoyed.
Let's hope we can see more games like these in the near future, most likely with themes other than medieval fantasy: sci-fi, steampunk, etcetera, let alone which genres could bring fresh air. What about a classic RPG with match-3 battles? Or a starship simulator where you actually make maneuvers and open fire through combos? Who knows, it might well be worthy of a game that oughtta be.