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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.

The catch 
And that, irritatingly, is a big part of the design--which feels like an intentional move to diminish the experience. That's where a potentially great puzzle game gets poked and prodded so much that fun is sacrificed to tempt you to pay money. You've got a functional free game, but there are times in which the satisfaction of success and victory feels like it's right behind a paywall, and there's no other way to get it. But you're invested. You've played dozens of levels. You're not going to let a few bucks come between you and the rest of the game, right?

Like its predecessor, Soda Saga gives you up to five free lives to work with, and they regenerate slowly over time. You can snag more by begging Facebook friends, which is a form of social torture. I couldn't stomach trying to initiate such a request, so I waited for others to bug me for more lives, and then we continually traded back and forth. You can buy more credits for lives if you need to play more immediately, but that's not really the punishing part here. Waiting is a reasonable expectation.

What'll wear your down are the limited number of moves allowed in each stage, which you can naturally expand by spending money. That's where almost all of my money went: I'd play a stage several times and come nowhere near finishing it. But finally, I'd get so close that surely I need just a few moves to complete the objective. Now's my chance, and adding five more moves only costs about $1 (although if you keep adding moves to a single attempt, the price soars). Isn't that worth saving potential days of frustration? Yeah, maybe--if you're exceedingly choosy about when and where you tap into your personal funds. 

The main sticking point is that Candy Crush Soda Saga uses randomized boards: the various candy pieces are never in the same place between attempts, and even the objectives you need to clear--like those hidden gummies below the surface--might be in different locations. Whether they're truly random or tilted toward the useless is unclear. But success is so often dependent on creating chain reactions of special pieces, and if the board's contents aren't set up to allow for such elaborate combos, you'll get nowhere fast.

That happens a lot--and Soda Saga's sudden difficulty spikes come much, much earlier than in Candy Crush Saga. When you win, it feels like luck. And when you lose, it seems like you never stood a chance. When you get tired of the latter sensation, you might spend money to push ahead until the next roadblock. "One last time," you think. We've all been there.


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