Review: Candy Crush Saga

At a Glance

ESRB Rating: E - Everyone
My Rating: Ages 10 and up
Genre: Match 3
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2017
Review Published On: January 26th, 2019
Played on: Thaddeus

Available from:

Windows Store

Save System:

Your progress is recorded automatically upon leaving a stage.

Summary of
Major Issues:

While this game features a lot of bright and happy characters, it also tends to push players towards the in-game store, where they can buy in-game items and perks using real money.


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A typical level

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One of the tougher stages

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Game Overview

Candy Crush Saga is probably the most well known mobile game out there, assuming it hasn't also usurped Bejeweled as the best known Match 3 game. But, while it does have the typical tile swapping mechanics seen in all Match 3 games, Candy Crush Saga doesn't use them in the usual way. Instead of trying to clear a board within a time limit, each level is a unique puzzle where you try to accomplish some objective within a given amount of moves. Swap too many candies carelessly, and you'll lose the level very quickly.

One of the things that'll help you clear the levels are the various powerups that can be earned, bought, or created. In fact, you might find it hard to progress without powerups; a detail that can be a bit frustrating at times. On the plus side, many of the more common powerups can be created by manipulating the candies within a level, and there are number of relatively easy ways to gain more through gameplay.

However, no matter how good you are at Match 3 games, you will eventually lose a level or two, and this is when things go downhill. When you lose a level, you also lose various perks and bonuses you've acquired in previous levels. Thus, if you try again immediately, you'll be starting the level with a disadvantage and likely lose again.

This is where my biggest issue with this game comes into play. Since everything depends so heavily on powerups, losing your bonuses is treated as a big deal. Instead of just accepting the loss and moving on, you're prompted (sometimes more than once) to purchase extra moves. In theory, these extra moves can help you solve the level, but this isn't always the case.

The problem with this (and other prompts that you'll come across) is that you buy these items with gold bars. Gold bars, while a fictional currency, are purchased using real money, and you need a lot of gold bars to buy even the cheapest things. Effectively, you're regularly steered towards spending real money on things that don't really help you.

Don't get me wrong; there is a good, solid Match 3 game here. But the way it constantly pushes players towards its store makes it unsuitable for kids.

Points of Interest

Over 2000 levels
When puzzle games brag about having over a few hundred levels, it's often a sign that the game is little more than a time waster or becomes very repetitive after a while. One of Candy Crush Saga's strongest points is that it manages to keep things unique despite the huge number of levels it features. This is done by continually introducing new types of game pieces as you progress.

For example, you'll get introduced to chocolate early on. Chocolate blocks off the spaces it occupies, and over time, it spreads over the board, making it a cumbersome obstacle. You can free up the spaces it occupies by making a match nearby, and if there's no more chocolate on the board, you don't have to worry about it anymore. But, later on, you'll encounter chocolate generators. These pieces cannot be matched or cleared, and they'll create new chocolate pieces regularly. In those levels, you can only work around the troublesome candy.

On a side note, you can also go back and replay a level you've already cleared. This not only allows you to try and earn a better score, but your actions in the level will also count towards charging up your powerups, feeding your pet, and other bonuses.
Many ways of earning powerups
In many levels, the powerups you have are going to be what determines success or failure. Fortunately, there are quite a few different ways to earn them. The slowest method is the prize wheel, which can be spun once every day to earn a random powerup. Faster methods include feeding a candy pet, collecting banded candy, helping a buddy collect candy, or charging up a special object. This special object varies regularly, and it's usually either a robot or a space ship. During special events, it will probably change into something related to the event.

The special object is also the most important item, as it automatically gives you powerups when you enter a level. The more it has been charged up, the more powerups you'll get. This is also one of the perks you'll lose if you fail to complete a level. When this happens, then your best bet is to replay an easy level a few times to charge it back up.
Very in-your-face
Puzzle games are typically relaxing, with quiet music and limited animation. Match 3 games aren't typically very different in this regard, with many of them taking mystical or meditative themes. Candy Crush Saga on the other hand, is very much the hyperactive toddler of the genre, constantly flashing animations at you in rapid succession after each level. Taking things a step further, some of these windows you need to click through are advertisements for other games, so if you dismiss them too quickly and accidentally click on the wrong part of the screen, you might end up on the Windows Store instead of the next level.
Life limit
Like many mobile games, you have a fixed number of hearts. Every time you lose a level, you also lose one heart. You need to have at least one heart to play the game, so this forces the player to take a break when they're on a losing streak. Hearts regenerate over time, so running out of them is just a temporary issue. Of course, you can purchase hearts from the in-game store if you really wanted to, but that just leads into the next problem...
The in-game store is heavily pushed
If you lose a level, you'll need to confirm that you want to accept the loss. Sometimes, you'll need to confirm this multiple times, as the game will remind you that you'll lose your various bonuses, progress towards feeding your pet, and progress you've made towards any event going on. Losing all of this is presented as a big deal, but the fact is that you can regain it quickly by simply replaying an older level a few times.

There is also a piggy bank that allows you to earn gold bars by clearing levels. This would be a reasonable compromise, but you can only open this piggy bank by paying $3 in real money.

Concerns and Issues

In-game purchases
Easily the most objectionable thing in Candy Crush Saga is the in-game store. Here, you can purchase packages of gold bars with real money. These gold bars can then be spent on extra moves or various powerups when needed. In theory, microtransactions like this can be a decent way for players to get a little help and support the games they play. The way this game practices the concept however, is bordering on predatory.

The main problem here is that it's very easy to lose a level. Since losing a level also means losing some or all of the active powerups you have, your next try is going to start with a huge handicap. And of course, the game will actively try to stop you from accepting a loss by throwing up various messages warning you that you'll lose these bonuses if you give up now. If you don't give up, you'll need to purchase more moves or some other special item using gold bars, and if you don't have enough gold bars, you'll be taken to the store where you can buy some more.

But this can be broken down further. Gold bars cost $0.15 on average, while powerups and extra moves usually cost 3 to 15 gold bars each. In other words, a second chance at beating a level will run you about $2.25, and there's no guarantee that you'll win with those extra turns.
Fantasy creatures
This is more of a technicality than anything, but there are some fantasy themed creatures found in the game's world. These include some genies, dragons, unicorns, and other things you'd find in a book of fairy tales. Initially, Tiffy (little girl who appears throughout the game) interacts with these characters, helping them out as you go along. However, this concept is quickly and quietly dropped surprisingly early in the game, resulting in nearly everyone becoming little more than a decoration on the stage map.

There are two exceptions to this "no-interaction" rule: The first is the Yeti, who will pop in randomly to offer you a chance at finding treasure, and the second is a baby dragon and their older relative. The baby dragon takes the place (and functionality) of a candy pet, while the older dragon collects stars that are awarded based on your performance in a level.