King’s Candy Crush Saga is an indomitable force in casual gaming right now. It is the top-grossing app on Google Play, the App Store, and Facebook. If you haven’t figured it out yet: Candy Crush is making a whole lot of money. It’s only natural that other companies try to ride on the coattails of King’s success by putting out clones of Candy Crush. Unsurprisingly, Zynga’s on board with their own take on adorable and hyper-addictive match-three: Fairy Tale Twist.
Zynga is notorious for taking somebody else’s game and rewrapping it with great art, sound, and social features. Zynga’s heyday has come and gone, but they’re still up to their same old Zynga ways: Fairy Tale Twist is Candy Crush Saga with prettier packaging and new theme. The theme is fairy tales, and the candies are now magical charms — apples, golden eggs, frog princes, pumpkin carriages, tiaras, and witch hats to be exact.
The impish Rumpelstiltskin has stolen the magic out of the classic fairy tale stories. This is shown by the storybook illustrations being drained of color. The open storybooks are the maps of Fairy Tale Twist, with Little Red Riding Hood hosting the first 10 levels and the 60 following levels being spread across Jack & the Beanstalk, Snow White, and Hansel & Gretel. As you clear levels, the storybook’s illustrations get colored in and short animated scenes portraying parts of the story are shown on the map. For example, when you beat level 1, you’ll see Red’s village colored in and a little animation of Red talking with the wolf.
Beyond Rumpelstiltskin’s color-draining role, the fairy tale stories have all been twisted (that’s where the “Twist” comes in for the title). The twists are pretty minor, but the stories are delivered with a humorous modern spin on the source material. The stories are primarily told as short cutscenes at the beginning and end of each storybook, but you do still get a few animations on the map between levels. Of course, the protagonists still get their happy endings… it just may involve Red taking the wolf problem into her own hands.
Honestly, I like Zynga’s presentation a lot. The gummy-like charms are adorable, the characters are endearing, and the stories are fun and actually somewhat engaging due to their unexpected twists. The animations and special effects as you clear charms from the board are exciting and, my goodness, the music is so much better than that obnoxious short loop they call background music in Candy Crush Saga.
Fairy Tale Twist has essentially identical gameplay to Candy Crush. You select one charm to swap with an adjacent charm and make matches of 3, 4, or 5 like-colored charms. The various levels have different objectives that you are tasked with clearing within a certain number of moves. Your objectives might be making matches, waking up birds (which you do by including them in a match), or smashing stone tiles (by making matches on top of them).
Making matches in certain shapes cause powerful charms to be left behind that can help you clear many charms at once. A match in an L- or T-shape will leave a Pixie Dust charm behind that will explode a 3×3 area around it when it is part of a match. A 4-in-a-row match will leave a Fairy Dash charm behind that will shoot fairies out in four directions to clear the row and column it is in. A 5-in-a-row will make a Crystal Ball charm that you can swap with an adjacent charm to clear every charm on the board of the same color. Like Candy Crush, you can swap two special charms with each other to cause an even more powerful effect. For example, swapping a Crystal Ball charm with a Fairy Dash charm will cause all charms of the same color as the Fairy Dash to send out charm-clearing fairies either vertically or horizontally. Having so many rows and columns clear at the same time results in well over half the board being cleared in a single move.
Everything’s peachy as long as you keep beating levels, but that’s just not how these games work. The difficulty ramps up extremely quickly so that a game of skill quickly becomes a game of luck. When you fail a level, you lose one of your 5 extra lives. You can regain lives by asking your Facebook friends for help, paying some premium currency (Emeralds), or waiting 25 minutes per life. Through friends or waiting, you can certainly play through this game for free, but some levels are so difficult that they will easily require more than 5 attempts.
Of course, you can make these levels easier by stocking up on power-ups. You will unlock more power-ups as you advance through the story, but once they are unlocked you will need to buy them with Emeralds. Power-ups include instantly clearing any one charm, shuffling the board, or starting a level with 5 extra moves. Additionally, whenever you fail a level, you will be given 10 seconds to drop some Emeralds on 5 more moves. If you don’t bite within those 10 seconds, that’s when you’ll lose your extra life. The whole thing is carefully designed to be a fun puzzle game that turns into a fun gambling game… without you noticing the shift. I really don’t have a problem with this, as long as people know what they’re getting into.
The whole gambling thing is really well hidden though. It’s a slow transition, where levels ramp up to insane difficulties that rely on the luck of what charms are dropped from the top of the screen. There are several methods the game makes the game harder, but most of these are sufficiently obscured that it still feels like you’re playing a game of skill. It’s a phenomenal balance that is responsible for the meteoric rise of Candy Crush. Be aware… irregularly shaped levels, levels with more charm colors, and levels with certain objectives are meant to be absurdly difficult. Irregularly shaped levels have strange corners that make lining up 3 like-colored charms pretty challenging. Some levels also have holes in the middle of them which also obscure the games difficulty. The charms under these holes are filled in first from the side, then from above. The way the charms fall to fill in the board is hard to predict which makes the intentional setup of all-important combos very challenging. It’s worth mentioning that there are plenty of confidence-restoring easy levels between the soul-crushing hard levels.
So, beating the hard levels is pretty much reliant on good fortune smiling upon you or else you coming in to the level well-armed with powerups and Emeralds to buy extra moves with. It can be really frustrating to drop some powerups on a tough level only to wind up losing the level anyway, but that’s how it goes. I can’t stress enough that — just like Candy Crush Saga — the hard levels are more like a slot machine than Bejeweled. That said, I’m fine with people playing slot machines if they know what they’re getting into. Just be aware that after you buy Emeralds for the first time, the next pack is going to be even easier to buy.
Ultimately, Fairy Tale Twist is another match-3 game with all the charm and apparent fun to really hook players. Even as a cynical player who is fully aware of the exploitive techniques being used against me, I found myself constantly wanting to play just one more level. Zynga’s got something good on their hands, but I’m not sure it can stand out enough to do much at all to Candy Crush’s dominance. Fairy Tale Twist is the better game, but it’s such a minor level of improvement. That is, I don’t think Candy Crush players are going to want to lose all of their progress in exchange for prettier graphics, tolerable music, and some slightly altered fairy tales. It’s easy to pick on these games for their coercive monetization schemes, but they are popular for a reason. Not everybody is looking for a hardcore strategy game with a “fair” payment system. The difficulty ramps up fast, the fun wears thin, but Fairy Tale Twist is another good game to play if you just want to kill some time without thinking too hard about it.
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