Super juicy, but quickly loses its flavor
The new trend in match-three games is to draw lines through matching icons rather than shifting their positions. This interesting evolution not only gives players a new way to enjoy matching three, but it challenges them to solve similar issues by distinctly different means. Pocket Playlab's free-to-play Juice Cubes embraces the trend in hopes of attracting some of the Candy Crush Saga crowd; unfortunately, it fails to convince us that fruit is better for you than candy.
Juice Cubes (which I keep wanting to call “Juicy Fruit”) is born of a collaboration between Rovio Stars, the publishing arm of Rovio Entertainment (known for the Angry Birds franchise) and Pocket Playlab, the makers of another cube-themed game, Lost Cubes. (Fans of Lost Cubes, be warned—Juice Cubes' gameplay is completely different.) It's set among a series of small islands inhabited by things like sentient hermit crabs, pirates, and giant octopi, and these nautical natives all have one thing in common—they have problems. In their fancifully fluid world, those problems are solved by clearing levels using an easy-to-learn match-three technique, and who better to do that than you?
As mentioned before, Juice Cubes employs a match-three method wherein you connect static icons by drawing lines through them. The nine-by-nine board is covered with apples, strawberries, bananas, and coconuts and these can be connected vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. As “match-three” implies, matches require three or more of the same icon; matched icons burst, allowing the remaining ones to cascade toward the bottom of the screen. Unlike other games in the genre, in Juice Cubes there's no such thing as automatic matching, so cascades do nothing but rearrange the board. This makes for slightly different gameplay, but also eliminates the possibility of achieving the explosive random combo-chains achievable in games like Bejeweled and Candy Crush.
Juice Cubes attempts to make up for that with cute graphics, fun-and-sun sound, and sparkling power-ups. The artwork here is simple but vibrant, and the steel-drum-like music evokes days spent lounging under a palm tree with sand in your toes. Power-ups (here they're called “fruit bombs”) add life to the rather straight-forward matching mechanic and are generated by making matches of four or more. Different fruit bomb varieties come from directing your matches side-to-side, up-and-down, or diagonally.
Vertical/horizontal matches create fruit bombs that, when activated, take out whole rows of fruits (the direction of the blast is determined by the direction of your finger-swipe); while diagonal matches create fruit bombs that detonate a three-by-three area of the board. The most powerful fruit bomb is made by matching eight or more icons: activating that one zaps all instances of one type of fruit. These fruity eruptions do make things more fun, especially when different ones are matched together.
Along with fruit bombs, Juice Cubes features additional unlockable power-ups that allow you to cheat a little by strategically taking out one particular fruit or swapping two adjacent fruits. These however, cost. Although it's typical for power-ups to unlock the longer you play, many games allow you to “try before you buy.” Rovio Stars makes the self-interested, but perhaps unwise choice not to do this, and makes you shell out in-game gold from the get-go. Gold can be earned, but it happens so rarely that you really have no choice but to purchase it. Gold packs range from $1.99 for 15 to $99.99 for 1,200 (for perspective, 5 extra moves or one power-up cheat costs 9 gold). You'll also have to pay if you want to unlock new areas of the map.
Each section of Juice Cubes' map contains ten levels, and you can play roughly 40 before being disallowed from moving on—then you have to start bugging people for map pieces. If you prefer to maintain your friendships, you can avoid cluttering people's Facebook feeds by spending $1.99 to unlock new sections. The thing is Juice Cubes' gameplay evolves so slowly, you might think twice before doing either.
Juice Cubes begins to feel repetitive pretty quickly because its objectives are so limited. You're given a set number of moves or a set time frame, and you're asked to do one of a handful of things: score a certain number of points, make plastic beach pails fall off the bottom of the board, or remove spaces covered with sand. Although as you progress, both your goals and the board layouts change, the changes are so minimal, and the game's difficulty ramps up so slowly, there's not much sense of challenge within the levels or sense of accomplishment upon completing them. This makes for a slow, monotonous ride, and cute graphics just can't make up for that.
Juice Cubes is a decent little game that ultimately fails to plant much of a stake in the already over-populated match-three territory. It's cute, buoyant, and aside from being stingy with its power-ups, doesn't do anything particularly wrong; the thing is, its repetitive, too-easy gameplay simply fails to give us any reason to leave our first Crush.
- Bright, cheerful graphics. Easy-to-grasp gameplay. Fun tropical theme.
- Not enough variation in objectives. No “try before you buy” power-ups.