Candy Crush Saga (free) is among that class of mobile games that defines the “casual” genre. Easy to play and even easier to get addicted to, Candy Crush Saga could easily suck up all your time (and money) if you let it. If you want mindless color-matching, then look no further.
Have you played Bejeweled? Have you played any of the billions of knock-offs of Bejeweled? Then you have played Candy Crush Saga. Just replace gems with hunger-inducing candies and you get the idea.
The play is simple—just swipe two candies to switch their positions—and the feedback so carefully calculated that I am sure someone who’d never seen a smartphone in their lives could quickly figure it out. You have a pre-defined number of moves in which to score as many points as possible. You score points by lining up at least three in a row (or at least five in an L) of any like candies to “crush” them.
Why are you crushing candy? I have no idea. But if you do enough of it the level ends and you hear the happy music, and I really like the happy music.
As you crush candies, fresh random candies drop from the top of the screen to fill the gap. This makes it hard to strategize beyond using special super candies sometimes created in the process of candy crushing.
The game changes things up periodically by requiring you to score a certain number of points in so many moves, or adding “jelly” squares that can only be removed by candy crushing. The shape of the stages also changes from level to level, sometimes adding hard-to-crush wings off to the sides of the central board. Surprisingly, these small changes can make some levels devilishly difficult.
The music is worth mentioning because, like the game, it’s enjoyable but becomes annoying over time. Loud and bombastic, the music swoops at you until it’s hard to take. Using only the cutest instruments—rag time piano, triangles, auto-harps, etc.—it’s surprisingly lush, to the point of overkill. The end of level music, which I do genuinely enjoy, sounds like a piano and a zither being thrown down a chromatic staircase over and over again. You’ll walk away whistling.
Beneath Candy Crush Saga’s saccharine veneer is a heart of stone. Actually, it’s not so much a heart as it is a vacuum cleaner, designed to keep your eyes stuck to the screen and eventually suck the cash out of your wallet. You see, it’s really hard if not actually impossible to strategize in games like Candy Crush and random elements mean some games are guaranteed to be unwinnable.
Here’s where the game gets devious. You start with five lives, and slowly recover lives at the rate of one life per half hour. If you want to get more lives, you have to pay (in this case, $16.99). If you want to win more often, you might want to pay for special bonus powers, which cost a much more reasonable 99 cents. Like arcade cabinets, everything about Candy Crush from the images to the music is designed to keep you playing because eventually you’ll lose and get desperate enough to start shelling out cash.
In Candy Crush Saga’s defense I didn’t find the game predatory; I won most of the levels I played and unlocked several powerups for free. What’s more, you have to unlock the ability to buy items by playing. That’s far less cynical then I expected, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the game is just trying too hard.
Candy Crush Saga is a well-executed casual game that does a good job of keeping your thumb sliding across the screen. It’s not nearly as cynical as I expected, but there’s little chance for strategy and games bounces wildly between stupidly easy and frustratingly hard.
While you can’t beat free (or at least freemium), I would highly recommend that would-be casual gamers check out titles like Astro Shark and Color Sheep, which are simple but have a lot more heart and charm.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc