King may not be the most popular bunch around these parts, but it's clear they have a good understanding of how to make a game that grabs people. I've put in some time on all of their games, partly to assist my grandmother with difficult stages, partly because they are good for passing the time without commanding your full attention, and it's my opinion that nothing else they've released has been on the level of Candy Crush Saga [Free]. Bubble Witch Saga [Free] and Papa Pear Saga [Free] are both a bit too derivative without offering compelling reasons to play them instead of what they're aping, and Pet Rescue Saga [Free] requires a bit more concentration than I'm generally willing to give to it. Candy Crush is simple and challenging, while still being pretty easy to zone out on while you do other things. It's also King's most popular game by far.

With that in mind, perhaps there's little surprise in them returning to the match-3 genre with their latest iOS release. The challenge here for the developers is in coming up with something different enough from Candy Crush to give the whole enterprise a purpose, while still getting the same things right. Farm Heroes Saga [Free] succeeds in some ways, but falls short in others. Structurally, it's set up very much like every other release from King. You're given a board game-style map with all the stages laid out in order, and each one has to be cleared to open up the next. Depending on how many points you score, you'll earn anywhere from one to three stars, and every once in a while, there's a wall that prevents you from going any farther unless you spend some premium currency or ask your friends on Facebook. As usual, there are a ton of levels initially, and I also expect tons more to be added as time goes on.

Photo 1-10-2014, 10 48 38

As I mentioned, this game is in the match-3 branch of the puzzle genre. The theme this time is a farm, so you'll be matching up fruits and vegetables, along with the occasional barnyard animal. Like in any other game of this type, you can touch and slide to move a piece one space in any direction, with the aim being to match three or more of the same type in a row, horizontally or vertically. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Also keeping with the genre, if you match four or five of the same type at once, either in one line or in horizontal/vertical combinations, you'll be rewarded, though not with special pieces as in other games.

Clearing a stage generally requires you to harvest a quota of the various pieces within a particular number of moves, though there are some special boss stages where you damage the enemy by matching a particular type of piece. If you meet your quota with some moves remaining, you'll enter Hero Mode, which lets you play out your remaining moves with higher value pieces to boost your score. Those extra value pieces don't just come into play in Hero Mode, however.

This is Farm Heroes Saga's twist on the genre. When you make a match, surrounding blocks will temporarily gain an extra point in value towards the quota. Making special matches will add extra points to more pieces, and matching five in a row will harvest all of the pieces of that type on the board. As is the norm for King's games, this one starts off pretty gently, but somewhere around stage 30, the quotas start getting pretty high, so if you haven't figured out how to take advantage of those extra points, you're probably going to go nowhere fast. It's a pretty good addition, in my opinion, since it creates a benefit to matching pieces even if they aren't part of the stage's quota.

Photo 1-10-2014, 10 48 31As you progress through the stages, new kind of obstacles and pieces will come into play. There are flowers that require you to make matches in adjacent squares a few times, eggs that need to be matched to hatch them into a single chick, which needs to be matched with two of its mates to be collected, grass tiles that will add a bonus to any pieces you harvest on them, ice that will freeze a crop in place until you can match it, and so forth. The board shape and size changes from stage to stage as well.

The boss stages are a new idea, though they don't play out terribly differently from the regular stages. You'll face some sort of evil raccoon, who apparently doesn't have the right to eat. His life bar is represented by a percentage in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, and collecting specific crops will reduce it. You have to get his health down to zero before you run out of moves. If you're having trouble, you can use some of the magic beans you earn by clearing regular stages to give your matches some extra punch. I haven't found this necessary yet, but there's no other use for the beans as near as I can tell, so go nuts if you feel like it.

There are, of course, boosters in this game, and King will happily sell them to you at a high price. As with Papa Pear Saga, this game uses a premium currency, presumably to add a layer of abstraction to shelling out real money. You'll start the game with 50 gold, and the only way to get more is by opening your wallet. In a surprising turn, however, if you can wait out a fairly lengthy cooldown period, the boosters can all be used freely. Only once, mind you, before you have to wait out a timer on them again, but it's a lot more generous than I'm used to with this developer. Other IAP aspects have not changed here, however. You have a limited amount of lives, and if you run out, you'll have to wait for them to come back at thirty minutes each, use premium currency to get a full stock, or ask someone who's playing on Facebook to help you out.

Photo 1-10-2014, 10 48 07There's also the customary paywall, and unlike some other King games, you can't just do daily missions to pass these. Your only choice is to pay with premium currency or ask your friends on Facebook. The initial supply of premium currency the game gives you will see you past five of these gates, which is admittedly pretty far into the game, but I don't care for the absence of the mission-based progression one bit. Their previous games started like this and later had the ability to pass by completing missions added in later, and I hope that's the case here. As the game stands right now, you can access about 100 of the game's more than 150 levels using what the game gives you for free.

The art style in Farm Heroes Saga is actually not too bad by King's standards. It's nothing special, but the characters look a lot less creepy than usual, and the visual design holds together a lot better than the recent Papa Pear Saga. Pieces are easy to distinguish at a moment's notice both in shape and color, so colorblind gamers aren't left out. The sound design is passable but not nearly as good as Candy Crush. That game really nailed its sound effects for successive and special matches, whereas this one is just a bit too laid back. It's a small thing but it really affects how exciting the game feels. It's not actively irritating the way Papa Pear had a tendency to be, but it's just kind of flat.

This is probably King's best game on iOS since Candy Crush, though it still falls well short of it. The gameplay variation is clever and I really enjoyed that, and putting in free boosters on a cooldown timer is definitely a step in the direction of fairness. The game gets ridiculously hard after a while, which is a positive in my books, but your mileage on that will vary depending on how stubborn you are. As with all of King's games, the monetization aspects hold Farm Heroes Saga back from being all it could be. You'll run through your lives pretty fast on harder stages, and those gates aren't going anywhere for the time being. Still, even if you don't intend to pay a cent, there's quite a lot of content here, and for match-3 fans, I think it's worth a play.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • CecilMcW00t

    Was the mission clear for gates always there in the beginning on Candy Crush? I thought it was added later? I could see them implementing it for Farm Heroes as well if enough people ask for it. Also I'm really enjoying this, just reached level 101. :)

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Added way later.

    • rewind

      "If people ask for it?" Why in the universe would people want that?

      • CecilMcW00t

        Sigh...

  • Chris McNutt

    I'm not far in enough to have practical experience with the monetization, but I like it better than candy crush so far.

  • NickyNichols

    These are torture devices, not games.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Have you actually tried them? I was all about the Candy Crush indifference bandwagon until I spent some time with it, now it's one of my favorite puzzle games on the platform. I know it's easy to be dismissive of free to play games, but King actually makes good stuff.

      • William Hartman

        I joined in on candy crush back when it was the rave with everyone on facebook. I played a good bit, but all I saw after 2 months of play was NO challenge, only blind luck if you were going to get a random board setup thatw as actually beatable. I dont see how that is challenging or fun. I have friends who played the same levels 20-30 times before finally winning, and then get all excited like they figured out some great secret tactic, only to get stuck a few stages later (if not the next one) repeating the same thing. Most still play it! I saw it immediately for what it is - a WANNABE puzzle game with more random bull than actual puzzle challenge, and a constant need to nag friends or spam adverts for the game. Bubble Witch Saga was HORRID, having levels often that required IAP's to progress (unless you logged into facebook and played it that way, and got the free powerups). I wont touch or support another King game. To me, they ratee ven worse than EA and Gameloft in crap business. Even my 70 year old dad knows to avoid this crap and hates the spam people send him so they can keep playing.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        The puzzle that comes in to match threes is planning ahead to set up big matches. People overlook the skill requirement because it often is possible to beat levels through dumb luck. Look up some videos of people who are legitimately very good at match three games and you'll see what I'm talking about.

        Most people play games like that and see a chain of three they can match. Good players are looking to see what they can match to reliably string together color bombs. There's a world of difference.

      • William Hartman

        I get what you are saying, but there were a lot of times with later Candy crush levels that didnt matter how much you planned for chains/combos. I honestly just didnt see strategy most of the time with Candy crush or Bubble Witch. I loved Bejeweled, Puzzle Quest, Zookeeper DX, etc. but I just could not support Candy Crush or other King games I tried. To each their own, though...

      • rewind

        I agree with you, Candy Crush will always get ridiculed by gamers for being 'crappy' or 'greedy,' but in reality, it's an immaculate game with an excellent formula. Waiting 2.5 hours before lives replenish is wonderful, it keeps me productive while I can't play. And most freemium games are too easy, but I could be stuck for weeks on a level of CC or Farm Heroes and never give up. It's expertly and meticulously designed, and the Top Grossing charts prove it.

  • Taclys

    Is there a need for any more match 3 games? We've got bejeweled and candy crush, what else can you add?

    • Psac42

      Dungeon Raid showed a bunch more can be added to a match-3. I certainly don't think this is that game, but it still is possible for something new to come along.

      • DemoEvolved

        Don't tell king about dungeon raid. They will corrupt it

  • money

    How come this game is not like candy crush or pet rescue. When ur not on fb at least u can do puzzles to cross the bridge without friends. How can u get pass.

  • julz

    Great game till you get to level 80 been stuck on this level for couple mths!!! Its impossible lve looked at level 80 cheats but pfffff not enough moves so here l shall stay l just keep playing the lower levels just for fun

  • Paulette Pray

    When my friends send lifes i t shows them but then takes them away I've lost 9 lives so far, why does this keep happening ?

  • http://adampajor.blogspot.hu/ Pajor Ádám

    One of my friends recommended this game on Facebook. Well, yeah, let's
    give it a try I'm not a huge fan of these kind of games (I mean time
    wasters), but in short time I became addicted.
    I loved the variety
    of new kind of challenges and the increasing difficulty and of course I
    liked to beat my friends score. After a while, it became ridiculously
    hard, and only luck could help. In other word, if you are out of luck,
    you are f***ed and the only way to beat it to buy some power ups or wait
    for them. In a later level I made really huge combos and still I failed
    it as I still couldn't beat the raccoon.

    Still I like the game
    and it's not bad, but King's intention was clearly that you buy more,
    more and more stuffs to clear the later levels. Instead of fun, it
    becomes frustrating. Very frustrating.

    And no, I won't pay a cent for this game.

Farm Heroes Saga Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 3.5