by: Jason Waddell
Last night, after returning home from a screening of the terrible-but-not-sufficiently-atrocious-enough-to-be-a-classic Syfy (really?) film Sharknado, I booted up my phone for my new bedtime ritual: swiping candies while listening to Arcade Fire’s latest album.
I polished off a few levels and was met with an unusual message.
When I first wrote my Candy Crush review two months ago, I had only tackled one-third of the game’s levels. Several hundred levels later, what’s the verdict?
To my surprise, the entirety of Candy Crush is well and truly beatable without spending a dime. Although the difficulty continually increased, I never truly hit a brick wall that I had to pay my way though. Which isn’t to say the game didn’t present more than its fair share of frustration. A handful of predominantly luck-based levels required dozens of attempts to complete. Although the levels generally give players between 30 and 50 moves to spend, for the game’s worst offenders, defeat can be all but ensured after only a few moves. Playing these levels felt like taking pulls from a slot machine. Success simply wasn’t possible from most starting configurations. And should you be dealt a promising hand, you still need to play with near-perfect efficiency to seize the opportunity.
All told, I completed the game without once spending money to finish a level. I did, however, pay my way through the content gates (the alternative is to pester friends with Facebook requests) that appeared every 15 levels. Discounting the free credits that were given to my account by King Games, I spent a total of $6.60 while playing Candy Crush Saga from start to finish.
Frustration aside, playing Candy Crush is extremely cathartic. Its turn-based gameplay is perfectly suited for deliberate and calculated play. Personally, I play at a very slow pace, mulling over each move and visualizing future board states in my mind, only proceeding after narrowing down on the most promising option. The game’s limited supply of moves creates some real “back against the wall” scenarios, and weaseling an unlikely victory out of the apparent jaws of defeat can feel truly euphoric. Many games left me wishing I had recorded my gameplay.
At its best, Candy Crush’s level design is truly top notch. Like any good puzzle game (is this where I namedrop Jonathan Blow?), Candy Crush subtly changes the formula to force the player to engage their brain in new and unique ways. There were long stretches of levels that hit the perfect balance of creativity and challenging. One particular level had me stuck for days, but the design was so engaging and skill-testing that I was almost disappointed when I finally cleared it.
But at its worst, Candy Crush is just a shitstain. Some levels give the player no freedom of movement, laying them at the mercy of forced-moves and a cruel RNG mistress. Others provide challenging objectives that can be entirely circumvented with the purchase of a given bonus.
There’s a good game built into Candy Crush, but it’s wrapped in the outrageous trappings of a cash-extraction gauntlet that intersperses compelling gameplay with barriers that demand tribute be paid either in dollars or in frustration. As much as I begrudge the formula, Candy Crush Saga is clearly a success by any conceivable metrics. For better or worse, the free-to-pay model doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
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