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Freemium Field Test: Candy Crush Soda Saga can get expensive fast, but its appeal is undeniable

Andrew Hayward | Jan. 29, 2015
While not a dramatic shift from the original Saga, it's gripping—even when it seems unfair or downright impossible.

Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it's difficult to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into. With Freemium Field Test, we'll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put it through its paces, and let you know if it's really worth your time (and money).

I never expected to spend $25 in Candy Crush Soda Saga. Actually, I never expected to spend $25 within any mobile game, least of all something like Candy Crush Soda Saga. But here we are a couple weeks later, and now I have to collect my iTunes receipts and sheepishly forward them to my editor. (Sorry, boss!)

But I can't be the only one that found the in-app purchase trigger just a little too easy to squeeze in King's latest free-to-play phenomenon. It's built that way, and that's the entire point. This isn't a scrappy studio making the game they've always wanted to--King's whole mantra is monetization, and they're arguably the best at it, turning colorful and oftentimes derivative puzzlers into cash-generating machines. And it obviously works.

That sounds cynical, but I'm not bitter at all. In fact, I had a lot of fun matching up candy gems and soda bottles, although the peaks of frustration always seem just a bit too calculated for Soda Saga to feel like a true skill-based game. 

The pitch 
Candy Crush Soda Saga isn't a dramatic shift away from the original Candy Crush Saga, just as Angry Birds Seasons wasn't a total reimagining of its progenitor. It's a similar game with a slightly different theme and a couple of new mechanics. 

As before, Candy Crush utilizes a familiar match-three puzzle formula, challenging you to link like-colored candy icons to clear them from view. And you'll have a set number of moves available to complete each stage's objective, whether it's clearing chocolate squares from the grid or unearthing large gummy bears hidden beneath ice sheets.

Where Soda Saga shakes things up is in adding even more types of candy pairings, which result in additional special pieces. Now you can match four candies together in a square to generate a floating fish--which, when cleared, seeks out a special piece on the board and detonates it. Or, if you match seven like-colored candies, you'll earn a piece that paints others a single color, typically resulting in a chain reaction of candies blending and disappearing from sight. Also, there are stages that rely on popping soda bottles to make liquid flow into view, which guides pieces upwards rather than down. 

What that all means is more potential for chaos, although the board layouts conversely seem more constrained than ever. You're expected to make matches in tight and occasionally twisty boards lined with pastry squares and ice layers that take several nearby matches to clear. Progress comes slow, and too often Soda Saga has to reshuffle the contents as the layouts are too cramped to allow for flexibility in your available moves. 

 

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