Candy Crush Saga is becoming a staple of pop culture. Young adults talk about mixing candies at dinner (sounds shady), and the phrase "Candy Crushin' it" is becoming the new "YOLO". But what makes candy crush so remarkable when we had Bejewled Blitz, Pokemon Puzzle League, Puzzle Quest, and a million other match-3 games before it?
1. Mixing special candies
While the base mechanic of the game is the tried and true match-3, Candy Crush adds the core mechanic of mixing special candies. Mixing is an incredibly rewarding feeling, whether you cleverly aligned two special candies or they happened to fall next to each other. It happens rarely enough to feel special, and feels rewarding enough to keep playing in hopes of doing it again. Additionally, after beating a level you get a Sugar Crush (which activates all remaining special candies) and if you have moves left over it clears more candies from the board. This is yet another satisfying and rewarding element of the game.
2. Varying game modes
Every level has a different objective, so when you're binge playing it's hard to get bored. Candy Crush has a variety of different game modes: reach a score in limited moves, reach a score in limited time, clear the jelly, drop the ingredients, mix specific special candies, etc. Since the game modes are scattered accross the levels, the game doesn't get stale.
3. Level progression
Every episode (~15 levels) introduces a new game mechanic: episode 1 you get jelly, 2 - ingredients, 3 - blocks, 4 - cages, and so on. Even at level 156 (episode 12) the game introduces a chocolate machine. Most game developers are in a rush to demonstrate to the user the full complexity of the game. But in mobile games this often complicates the game too fast and leaves users confused. While most candy crush players will never see the chocolate machine (and perhaps never appreciate the full awesomeness of the game), it's worth it because it allows players to grow familiar with mechanics before they see a new one. With so many creative mechanics, the game never gets boring for power players.
4. Clear tutorial
The game's tutorial demonstrates how to play in a variety of manners. It fades everything out except the first two candies you need to swap, plays an animation of the action you are supposed to perform, displays a graphic that shows what you should expect to happen after you take the action, and finally describes the action with words. The tutorial also doesn't try to introduce everything in level one, you slowly learn about other elements in the game as the tutorial levels go on. The tutorial doesn't only exist in the early levels, new mechanics (and how to use them) are introduced in later levels. The game also gives you helpful indicators on every level, if you haven't made a move in a while it highlights a possible move in case you couldn't find any.
5. Emphasis on success rate over mastery
The past few weeks I've taken time to play a couple of my childhood favorite games, Crash Bandicoot and N. In those games, each level requires mastery (at least a dozen practice runs), and no room for error in order to beat the level. Contrast this to Candy Crush, where you can beat most early levels on your first playthrough. Users don't have the same patience for casual mobile games as they do for console and PC games, so Candy Crush de-emphasizes mastery in order to preserve a higher success rate for levels. Additionally, there's a significant element of luck in the game, so you don't have to be at your best or 100% focused on the game in order to progress.
6. Delightful UI/UX
While many games today are moving towards flat design, Candy Crush stuck to a tried and true candy theme with fun colors and shapes. It's a safe theme that appeals to a wide variety of ages. Additionally all menus (and other elements) have delightful animations when they transition in and out. The animations are speedy to prevent the app from feeling slow and blocking the user from interacting. Finally, during gameplay every interaction you have with the board gives you solid feedback. When you place your finger on a candy, it lights up, and when you swipe, the candies swap (even though they sometimes have to swap back if there is no match).
7. Passive gaming
Playing Candy Crush doesn't require your full attention, it's so easy to pick up and play because you can simultaneously do other activities. With exception of timed rounds, you can easily play while watching TV or chatting with friends. In a time where people are often using multiple screens, the game caters to people who enjoy multitasking.
8. Social integration
Candy Crush takes advantage of the Facebook platform in 3 key ways. First, it allows you to see your friends high scores on each level + their overall progress. Second, it utilizes Facebook requests as a way for a user to keep playing or unlock new levels. Third, it takes advantage of open graph to post on a users feed when they complete a level. These do a great job of boosting both engagement and virality for the game.
9. Play on all your devices
Connecting to Facebook also enables you to sync progress accross devices. I love being able to seamlessly pick up on my iPhone where I left off on my iPad mini. While there are sometimes delays in syncing, it seems to work better than most games.
10. It's damn fun
This is sometimes overlooked when game devs try to get too scientific with game design. Simply put, when you give Candy Crush Saga to 10 people, 9 of them will enjoy playing. They took advantage of an existing fun game concept (match-3) and added more creative and fun mechanics. While there isn't a formula you can follow to make your game fun, you can definitely put it in front of dozens of people and make sure people enjoy playing your game!
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