Review: Candy Crisis 1.0
Developer: John Stiles
Price: $25 (shareware)
Requirements: 100MHz Power Mac with GameSprockets installed.
In or around 1996, John Stiles released Skittles. I was fond of the game even though the concept was not entirely original. While hosting emulation.net, John found time to work on a sequel. I was glad to hear this sequel was released and tried it out immediately. I was not disappointed. Everything about this game screams slick quality. The computer opponents have been beefed up, and much attention has been given to the audio-visual department. Yet the underlying simple gameplay of the original is largely unchanged. Skittles 2 was subsequently renamed Candy Crisis for legal reasons.
Candy Crisis is undoubtedly Tetris-inspired (like Jewelbox and Columns) and the basic concept should be familiar to most. Like those games, a two-dimensional well starts off nearly empty. Pieces (called candy) of various colors fall from the top of the screen, and the player manipulates them to form arrangements at the bottom. As the pieces pile upwards towards the top of the screen, there is less space for manipulation and a greater chance of putting the pieces in disadvantageous positions. When the pieces reach the top of the screen, the game ends.
A game beginning. Two wells are shown (human vs. computer). At this stage, it looks like a two-player Tetris game.
Like Tetris, it takes a minute of watching or playing Candy Crisis to understand it. Candy Crisis is not a clone though. The aim of the game is to score points, defeat the opponent, and gain levels by creating ‘combinations.’
Two candies fall from the top of the screen each time. The player manipulates them by moving them laterally, rotating them or increasing their speed of descent, to place them in advantageous positions. Four or more candies of the same color come in contact to form a combination and disappear with a pleasant sound effect, leaving the top pieces to rearrange and take their space. Every time four same-colored-candies come in contact, they vanish, which means that it is possible to trigger chain-reactions of disappearing combinations. Therefore large combinations or chain reactions are a good thing, and much of the game is spent trying to build large combinations quickly. The larger the combinations, the more points the player gets. There is also the concept of punishing the opponent which will be discussed later.
My first impression of the game was the 7 MB download size. The game itself is a single executable, which is neat. DrawSprocket and InputSprocket are supported and required. DrawSprocket changes the resolution to 640x480 full screen (don’t worry, your desktop icons are safe) when the game starts.
InputSprocket allows the use of all those fancy input devices, and I tried a CH FighterStick just for laughs. Totally impractical, but it worked. Keyboard controls for each player consists only of four keys anyway.
There are three options for gameplay: player vs. computer, player vs. player, and single-player. Multiplayer is limited to two players on a single computer at the same time. Network play is unlikely to be added. Pity.
The computer opponents (there are twelve of them) have certainly been beefed up from last time. The documentation claims the opponents have individual techniques and adjust their tactics in response to the player’s. I am not sure about the computer’s ability to adjust, but it did seem that some opponents play in different ways compared to others.
At middle to higher levels the computer tends to move at an unnatural speed and precision. Sometimes the placement looks random, but I have never figured out whether there is a method behind the madness. I do know that the computer is capable of some nasty combinations!
When playing against the computer, I found the game’s difficulty to be satisfactory. It is not too easy, and more importantly there is no sudden leap to too hard. Furthermore, the time needed to complete a particular level varied each time I played it. An opponent that I could beat in five minutes one day, could take fifteen minutes the next time. I attribute this to the concept of combinations: unlike in Tetris, it is hard to predict the position of the remaining pieces when a combination is created. Chain reactions can occur when unplanned (which is a bonus, because the player gets more points), or planned chain reactions can fail to arise as pieces migrate downwards and are no longer adjacent to each other.
The computer opponent’s portrait winces and smiles depending on how much trouble the computer is in when playing. It is very rewarding to perform a good combination against the computer and be rewarded by a painful wince. Some portraits give you an evil smile when you lose.
Multi-colored candy and bombs appear occasionally to spice up the game. A bomb clears out candy of a particular color. Although this sounds benign, a well placed bomb can clear out half the game screen, and trigger more combinations, converting a losing position into a winning one. This has saved me several times!
When playing against a computer or human opponent, the concept of ‘punishing’ the opponent is a big incentive to creating large combinations. Large combinations cause dud pieces to appear and drop into the opponent’s well, and the number of dud pieces is proportional to the size of your combination. Producing three or more dud pieces on the opponent’s side may not be much, but massive combinations, or a quick series of good combinations can overwhelm the opponent. These dud pieces block the opponent’s ability to put same-colored pieces adjacent to each other, and can only be removed if a successful combination occurs adjacent to them. Oh, and they put the opponent’s pile closer to the top of the screen…
In a two-player game or when playing against a computer, each side is trying to create good combinations. While a single massive combination can put the opponent out of the game, such a combination takes time. Furthermore, the player who creates a large combination also needs lots of pieces in his well, putting him at risk of losing.
On the other hand, keeping a well empty is reassuring. But with so few pieces lying around, it is hard to make effective combinations, and a good combination from the opponent will fill the well with dud pieces in a hurry.
Ironically therefore, creating small effective combinations and sending frequent consistent single piece duds (what an adjective) may be the best defense against the computer mind.
Sometimes in the rush and panic with your pieces stacking sky high, it is hard to create even a basic four piece combination!
The computer opponent drops some duds on me. Observe the computer’s expression.
The audio and visuals deserve a big mention. Each level has a particular theme, consisting of unique music and backgrounds, and the computer opponent’s portrait in the centre of the screen. These add to Candy Crisis’s lush atmosphere. I never got bored of the music throughout the time I have spent playing Candy Crisis. To add to the excitement and add insult to injury, the music speeds up when the player is about to lose the game. The combination of music, backgrounds, and facial expressions added personality to each opponent and level.
Sound is used to good effect to herald the arrival of multi-colored candy and bombs. Multiple combinations disappear with dings of increasing frequency, a terrifying sound for the opponent to hear.
The Candy Crisis Web site claims that particle effects, dynamic shadows, lighting, transparency, and even reflective candy are used. I won’t pretend to be able to point all these out, but everything from the selection menu to the level backgrounds to the scorched candies just look slick!
When playing against the computer, each player has three lives, which means the player can replay the last level three times. Points obtained during the failed attempt are removed. When two humans play, the game just goes on until someone quits.
The high score screen deserves a mention. The top scores are listed, but so are the best combinations, a very nice touch. One flaw I think is that the high score does not list the level achieved. A player may attain a high score by playing prolonged games against the lower level computer opponents, while players who tend to finish opponents off with larger combinations tend to have lower scores.
I play Candy Crisis against the computer opponent, or against my girlfriend. There is a bigger thrill playing against a human especially with the complaints and punches on the shoulder. The computer plays a good game as well, and the computer opponent’s facial expressions in response to how badly his game is going provide surprisingly good feedback.
Overall, Candy Crisis is a slick game with a simple concept that is very well executed. From the interface to the smooth-as-glass graphics, it has as much polish and flair as any arcade game of its type. I would recommend players try out the available demo, and bring a friend!