Critical Play: Theme Only Games

In this critical play, I played two Match Three games, Bubble Witch Saga and Bejeweled.

My interest in Match Three games stems from a fascination and an addiction to Homescapes, another genre of Match Three games thematically driven by the premise that you must complete levels to unlock new parts of a house, combining the puzzle component of a Match Three game with strong visual narrative elements. Homescapes boasts over 100 million downloads and contains thousands of levels, with new levels released by developers each week, limiting your time to play and limiting the number of attempts at each level. I have probably spent a good few weeks embroiled in Homescapes, thinking that each level completion brought me closer to finishing the house, only to find that the house contained an endless number of levels, and quitting after watching a YouTube tutorial in which the complete playthrough of Homescapes revealed that Homescapes had, in fact, thousands of levels. I have also shamefully paid for additional attempts in Homescapes, frustrated and seeking to finish the game.

Match Three games ask players to clear a level by matching three or more objects within a game. For instance, Bejeweled asks players to match three or more gems in a row, and Bubble Witch Saga asks players to match bubbles of the same color. More matches can create powerups, as in Bejeweled, where matches of four allow you to create a powerup that can clear a whole 3×3 grid of blocks, and matches of five allow you to create a powerup that can clear all of a specific gem at a time. Limiting the number of moves players can take to solve a puzzle, as well as the number of attempts players can make with a given puzzle, adds an additional degree of difficulty to the game as well as an opportunity for monetization, as both Bejeweled and Witch Saga ease players into the game with a simple tutorial and later ask players to pay for additional lives/attempts/powerups in the game.

Bubble Witch Saga was developed by King Digital Entertainment, a Swedish/Maltese game developer specializing in social games, specializing in Match Three games, with their most famous game being Candy Crush. Bubble Witch Saga comes with animated graphics, asking you to save the fairy queen, a fictional character who has been kidnapped by another fictional villain, Wilbur. In each level, the player aims and shoots a bubble to clear a series of preset bubbles of a similar color, clearing bubbles to save the owls trapped in the bubbles. The animation and graphics, as well as the silly fictional premise of saving a fairy queen, make the game feel as if it was designed with children in mind.


Bejeweled, developed by PopCap Games for browsers and later adapted by Electronic Arts for mobile, asks users to line up three or more multi-colored gems to clear them from the game board. Bejeweled has less of a narrative, which makes the game feel targeted at a more adult audience, without the need for a fictional narrative to drive players, allowing players to relish instead in the satisfaction of matching jewels and animating the powerups, with sounds and graphics that feel satisfying.


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