24 Feb 2013

Sweet(s) Destruction

I'm trying really hard not to fall back on talking about the monotonous routine in my life, and how I'm still not fully comfortable with the circumstances I've been thrust into to deal with for 20+ months. 

So I'll avoid that.

Instead I thought of discussing a particular game that has mysteriously swept across the nation, captivating players that are mostly above the intended target age group. A game that is sugar-coated with cute colourful art and a sort of underlying plot, but possesses interesting game mechanics that have helped in holding a firmer grip on fans.

Yes, it's Candy Crush Saga.

After seeing some of my Facebook friends publishing activity on this odd game, and not seeing signs of it receding for quite a while, I decided to satisfy my curiosity on just what's so interesting about this game.

What was the game like essentially? It's very similar to ordinary match-three games: you swap adjacent candies to make matches of at least 3 of the same type, either horizontally or vertically. It also features special candies that get formed when you do match-formations that exceed 3 of the same type, i.e. 4 in a row, T- or L-matches, and 5 in a row. The first one grants a striped candy that clears a row/column when matched, depending on how it was formed. The second one grants a wrapped sweet that explodes twice when matched. The third one grants a colour bomb that, when swapped with a normal candy of a particular colour, destroys all candies of that same colour. 

So I thought that this was quite like Bejeweled, the older and arguably more popular match-3 game. Then I found out about the other more interesting features:

Unlike Bejeweled, Candy Crush Saga had the extra ability to swap two special candies with each other, e.g. a striped candy with a colour bomb. Doing so activated other more powerful abilities that could clear the board better than with just one special candy. Taking the striped/colour combo, this causes all candies of that colour to become striped candies that immediately get activated, thus clearing out a lot of rows and columns at once.

Okay, so that's fine. An extra mechanic. But just one extra mechanic alone needn't always make an otherwise typical match-3 game really special. That's why the levels are also an important factor in the game's success. Apart from the normal "get at least this score in this number of moves or within the time limit" challenges, there are a few other types like bringing certain objects on the board from the top to the bottom. And each level has a unique level layout to keep it fresh. 

Furthermore, other obstacles are gradually introduced. Caged candies cannot be manipulated until it's involved in a valid match, for instance. Chocolate gradually occupies the board one space at a time, relentlessly consuming candies, unless broken by adjacent matches. There are even portals, for goodness sake!

The only gripe I have is that your success in completing the level becomes more and more dependent on your luck, the more you progress. It wouldn't matter much that you're really seasoned in the game, if the random number generator in charge of spawning the candies on the board isn't agreeable with you. That clearly isn't a problem for the game company itself, because there's where the money comes from. Frustrated players who want to quickly get ahead of fellow friends may buy extra power-ups that could aid them in harder levels... something that I often frown upon in many games today. Purchases of purely cosmetic goods like character appearance are fine by me, since they don't give an extra advantage to the player.

So if you're wondering how many teenagers and adults are getting hooked onto a simple matching game that's taking over computers and portable devices everywhere, the game genuinely can be quite interesting and addictive. I can say that most of us don't care about the cutesy story at all, treating it as merely flavourful filler content. Yet the game can invoke such great emotions: frustration at being unable to complete the level for the gazillionth time, and joy at finally being able to succeed after numerous tries. 

Why not have a go at it? It's fine if you don't like it, not everyone has a sweet tooth. And if you find yourself hooked, be prepared to see time fly :P