Less Dark, More Sexy
Before Candy Crush Saga took over the world and King became a household name, there was Bubble Witch Saga. Bubble Witch Saga was a big bubble shooter hit on Facebook, but nowhere nearly as a big a phenomenon as the company’s later hit Candy Crush Saga.
It should come as little surprise then that King is working on a sequel, Bubble Witch Saga 2, to rekindle the magic of the original. King invited me for a hands-on sneak peak of the game and showed me that you really can create a successful sequel to a casual mobile game.
The first thing you’ll notice about Bubble Witch Saga 2 is how attractive the main witch character Stella is compared to her predecessors in the original. Well, that’s the first thing I noticed.
This is what the witches Luna, Selma, and Hazel look like in Bubble Witch Saga:
And here is Stella, from Bubble Witch Saga 2:
Stella looks like was designed by fashionistas working at H&M or Zara.
All joking aside, Stella and her fellow witches portend a big difference between the two games. Whereas the original has a dark and spooky atmosphere (witches brewing spells around a cauldron in the middle of the night), Bubble Witch Saga 2 has a much lighter and brighter theme (an academy for the next generation of witches battling evil characters with technology). It’s a sequel, but it plays like a completely different game.
There are styles of play that Bubble Witch Saga 2 rotates through. The first is Classic, which should be very familiar to anyone who has played bubble shooters like Snood, Bust-a-Move, or the original Bubble Witch. Players shoot the ball up from the bottom of the screen to remove ball combinations of three- in-a-row (or more) descending from the top.
The second mode manages to bring something fresh and innovative to a familiar genre. There is a ghost trapped in the middle of the screen, surrounded by balls which you must remove to release them. The rub is that every time you shoot a ball, it rotates the ghost and surrounding balls like a wheel in the direction of your shot. This makes every shot strategic, and gameplay more fun and challenging.
The third mode is Rescue, where players shoot balls to release animals in a classic bubble shooter screen. Rescue feels a fair bit like a nod to TeamLava’s Bubble Mania, as well as King’s own Pet Rescue Saga.
Like most of King’s games, the three modes are mixed up in a progression of levels. The first levels are easy as you learn, but the game gets challenging quickly – especially in Ghost mode.
You’ll be aided in this challenge by two power ups: Rainbow, which you can shoot to remove all balls of the same color, and Fire, which removes any ball in the way (and is very handy when you’re about to lose and need to free a ghost or save one last animal to progress to the next level).
Unlike most bubble shooters, you do not die when the rows of balls descend to the bottom of the screen. Rather, you lose when you run out of balls. You can extend play by earning or paying for extra power ups, balls, and lives.
King has stuffed even more features into this seemingly simple bubble shooter game. You can target balls by either tapping the screen or sliding your finger to show the angle of the shot, for example. There are vortex balls which you can target to remove a ball you do not like or hit by mistake, and blockers which just get in the way.
There is even a pachinko element. You’ll release spiders when you score multiple combinations of popping balls in a row, and those balls bounce into cauldrons on the bottom of the screen, earning you more points and stars.
Sounds like somebody’s been playing Papa Pear Saga.
If this all sounds confusing, it kind of is. In fact, if I had any criticism for Bubble Witch Saga 2, it would be that they may have too much stuff going on. At times there were so many points earned, spiders released, and stars achieved that I lost track on what I was doing to be such a winner. On the other hand, all of these little elements make the game as a whole a lot more fun.
Talking with King, I brought up the fact that no free-to-play sequel has ever been as successful as its predecessor. Jan Wedekind of King acknowledged this challenge, but said King hopes to make Bubble Witch Saga 2 the exception by giving the game an entirely fresh look, designing it from the ground up for mobile, and adding innovative features like Ghost mode.
Honestly, I was skeptical going in. But my hands-on preview but left me nothing but impressed.
Bubble Witch Saga 2 looks, feels, and plays completely different from its predecessor. And Ghost mode makes it different from any bubble shooter I have ever played before.
Being a mobile and social game, you can actually be among the first to get a sneak peek of Bubble Witch Saga 2 provided you’re in the right territory. If you live in Canada, Sweden or Spain, surprise, you win the iOS lottery and get to download and it now before the rest of the world. (And if you don’t, here’s how to get a Canadian iTunes account). We’ve also confirmed that the game is live on Facebook and Google Play in Canada.