Pepper Panic Saga
- Release Date: November 20, 2013
- Publisher: King.com
- Developer: King.com
- Genre: Match-3, Puzzle
If there’s any company out there that knows how to make casual puzzle games, it’s King. You may be familiar with Candy Crush Saga, a little game of theirs that has been downloaded over half a billion times in just over a year. With other hit successes like Pet Rescue Saga and Papa Pear Saga, it’s getting to the point where King can just slap the “Saga” moniker onto anything and it will become a hit overnight. Okay, so maybe that’s a bit unfair considering the hard work they put into their development process, but the point stands: King’s Saga games are an indomitable force in casual gaming.
King’s development process involves pumping out a ton of games on their own website. The most popular games there get promoted into Facebook games, and then the most successful of their Facebook games make it to mobile platforms. King’s latest game to make it to the Facebook stage is Pepper Panic Saga, another match-three game that is equal parts flashy and charming.
Pepper Panic is a King game through and through. Its structure is familiar — levels are spread out on in a linear path on a map. Each level has a different objective that is basically to do something X times within Y moves. A failed level costs one of your five extra lives. Even more than Candy Crush, the game is completely charming. The music is bright and peppy, the brightly colored peppers all bounce around full of life, and the explosions are exciting — especially when you achieve the eponymous Pepper Panic, which is a chain of 10 explosions.
It’s not exactly like Candy Crush, though. The same mechanic is still swapping gems around to make matches of three or more, but this time, whenever you make a match, the pepper you moved absorbs the others in the match to grow in size. Peppers can grow up to five times, with the final growth triggering an explosion. Pepper explosions cause every like-colored pepper on the board to rank up once. As you can imagine, if you have a bunch of high-level peppers, it only takes one explosion to trigger a huge chain of explosions. For example, a red pepper could explode, causing two level 5 peppers to explode, which would then cause two level 4 peppers to explode. At that point, you’ve exploded five peppers and even the red peppers that are level 1 will have reached level 6 and exploded. 10 explosions in a single chain triggers Pepper Panic, which causes every pepper that is level 2 or higher, regardless of color, to be destroyed — essentially yielding a ton of points and resetting the board.
It’s a minor change, but the fact that one pepper from every match gets left on the board changes everything. The ability to move gems around the board without destroying them means you can be very intentional about setting up big matches (4-in-a-row, 5-in-a-row, L-shapes, and T-shapes). Each of these big matches cause every pepper in their row and/or column to grow by one stage, with the 5-in-a-row also causing every same-colored pepper on the board to grow by a stage. Between big matches and pepper explosions, matches in one part of the board can have a huge effect on the rest of the board. Like I said, Pepper Panic’s twists to the traditional match-three mechanics are minor, but they dramatically change the way it works and the way you have to think about it. I really like the changes, as they make the game feel much more strategic than predecessors like Candy Crush and Bejeweled.
Don’t get me wrong, the game isn’t heavy by any stretch of the imagination. The extra room for strategic play doesn’t bog Pepper Panic down at all. It still totally elicits that super-fun, just-one-more-time feeling you’ll find in other match-three games. If you’ve played any of King’s other games, you’re well aware of how good they are at perfectly balancing the difficulty. Most of the time, whether you win or lose, it will be barely. This keeps things nice and intense, you’ll have to actually pay a little bit of attention to succeed, but if you fail, you were close enough that it feels like you could totally do it with one more try. There are exceptions of course, you’ll occasionally annihilate a level on your first try, and other levels will have you pulling your hair out as they keep eating every single life you throw at them.
Running out of lives means one of three things. Waiting 30 minutes per life for them to regenerate on their own, begging your Facebook friends to send you some lives, or spending gold bars on them. Gold bars are the premium currency, of course, and you can get them in exchange for your hard-earned money. Gold bars are also good for buying consumable boosts or extra moves. That is, when you’re stuck on a really hard level, you can always drop some dough to make it a bit easier.
Pepper Panic is a great entry in the Saga series — I personally enjoyed it more than all the others (Papa Pear being a close second). Sure, it’s got some free-to-play limitations, but as long as you’re okay with waiting for your lives to return, you should have no problem eventually beating every level without coughing up any cash. I’ve already mentioned that I’m a fan of the extra layer of strategy, but it’s also nice that Pepper Panic feels like you’re playing something new. There have been a ton of match-threes since Bejeweled’s wild success in 2001, but few of them do enough to make them feel fresh. Leaving gems behind and making them gradually level up feels new though, and most importantly, it’s just fun. Without a doubt, Pepper Panic is hard to put down. If match-three is your thing at all, Pepper Panic is almost certainly worth the time it would take for you to try it out.
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