Soft Launched Game Review - Safari Smash

Mar
10

The game was reviewed by Iegor Pariev - a Product Owner at Renatus game publishing company. He keeps track of mobile and social gaming trends, builds the vision of future titles and is responsible for the final product.


Renatus team has been essential part of the casual gaming industry for over 3 years now and is currently in search of promising match-3 / bubble titles to launch. The publisher also seeks new talents in game design, level design, animation and development to hire to the internal development studio Puzzle Dreams.

Introduction

According to the analytical data of Appannie, Jam City company (formerly known as SGN) is planning to launch a new match-3 title Safari Smash.

Having analyzed the game in its current state, one thing that can be said for sure is the game’s USP consists in the collecting metagame implemented in form of rebuilding wildlife park and building homes for animals.

On first launch, prior to introducing the core gameplay to a player, a non-player lion character (NPC) tells about the wildlife park thus presenting a storyline and metagame. Later on, occasional words told by animals sort of keep the story going, but it’s barely noticeable.



About level modes and mechanics

Every level mode has its own NPC which is logically related to the goal of this specific level (additionally, each level on the map has its own peculiar icon).
  1. Tortoise Mode has two types:
    - the goal is to lead tortoise to the trophy in a certain amount of moves (this kind of mechanic is widely used in another company’s title Genies & Gems)
    - the goal is to lead tortoise to the trophy ahead of hare (main point here is a kind of PvE mode which brings along the competition component). The mechanic is fairly newю

  2. Penguin Mode. It requires a player to collect eggs (marked blockers) with penguins hatching out of them (similar mechanic is also used in Genies & Gems)

  3. Parakeet Mode. Player needs to collect bird images hidden under sublayer. Once all pieces are collected, an image turns into a parakeet flying to its nest (also used in Genies & Gems/Candy Crush Soda).

  4. Panda Mode. This one requires player to collect a bamboo (sublayer) to feed a panda (a standard mechanic used across all top match-3 titles starting from 2014).

  5. Frog Mode. Player needs to hit all the frogs by making combinations next to a hippo. Each hippo has 6 frogs on it, though level goal is around 20+, therefore this ‘frog carrier’ (a common multilayer blocker, in terms of the mechanic) is dynamic and emerges in different areas of the game board. Nibblers by Rovio has a similar mechanic for levels with boss on the board (the Boss Fight-Cobracabana mechanic).  
It drives us to the conclusion that in Safari Smash the stake is on:
  • narrative visualization of the core gameplay that involves animations related to level goals. Though it’s not the first time NPCs serve as level goals, they make player get emotionally attached and feel more empathy for the animals. We can see all NPCs asking for help on a starting screen, later we find them rejoicing over victory on ‘Level complete’ popups and looking sad on ‘Level fail’ popups (panda remains hungry, penguin mama doesn’t get her babies back, etc.).
  • new mechanic, same as in Cookie Jam Blast sequel (another new title soft-launched by Jam City). This is a new unique mechanic of NPC movement on the game board, which is further developed into a competition mode. In the said mode, there is no limit on moves and all player needs to do is bring the NPC to finish line before the opponent (hare) gets there.



Additionally
, Jam City sticks to the ‘one goal per one level’ rule in terms of level design strategy.

Just like in Cookie Jam Blast, in Safari Smash we find one NPC representing each level and being the level goal as well. The principle of a single level goal has additional psychological effect on player. The ‘Out of Moves’ popup (usually accounting for over 50% iAP monetization) informs him that ‘Only X’ goals are left to complete and it seems quite accomplishable, while completing several different goals would most likely force him to start over the level.
  



Boosters and wow effect

Jam City applies same ‘simpler’ principle to the powerup content in Safari Smash as they do with level goals. There are no pre-level boosters and we can find only 3 boosters on level (removing a single tile, clearing all tiles of a single color and removing a column+row of tiles).

The selected NPC takes part in booster animations (see more details in Metagame section) and it definitely adds visual diversity. Boosters are presented quite spectacularly, which is also achieved with the help of correct level design choice: for example, a tile, on which player has to apply booster according to the tutorial, is in the center of game board and, once removed, triggers a massive destruction of tiles producing the wow effect.  

The same technique is used for the tutorial intro of combo tiles: such levels have a large game board and the first matching combination alone destroys a lot of tiles and blockers.




Metagame and character unlock farm

Metagame is an apparent USP of Safari Smash title and it seems very logical that this metagame is presented ahead of the core gameplay by means of a ‘tough’ tutorial (simply put, a player is forced to build parks and spend resource - the leaves).  
The mechanic of farm is very simple:
  • each completed level is rewarded with the only resource available (‘leaves’)
  • the resource can only be obtained for stars earned on level (1 star is rewarded with 25 leaves, 2 stars - with 50 leaves, 3 stars - 75 leaves). The rewarding balance is kept the same throughout the game
  • the resource (‘leaves’) can not be bought/exchanged/obtained for free, the only way to get one is to complete a level. Leaves are spent on building homes for animals. Each home is built in several steps and requires a certain amount of leaves. As soon as the building is over, a NPC animal moves into the home.
  • every land has 2-5 homes. When all homes in the land are built, player gets a prize and access to the next land. There is a special land which becomes available only after Facebook Connect. It encourages players to log in with their Facebook accounts.
  • player starts to run out of leaves only after beating around twenty levels. Before that, he has enough resource to build the first farm and unlock 2 characters (in addition, he gets the ‘Refill lives 24 hours’ reward). Presently, the game doesn’t have any auxiliary reward systems of ‘daily bonus’ type. This may be due to the fact that the game is soft-launched, so player’s balance is being tested as it is and bonuses will most likely be added later.   
The backward relation between the core gameplay and metagame is purely ‘cosmetic’. After NPC moves into the home, he can be selected. The selected NPC will then appear in main lobby’s UI and booster animations.





The metagaming mechanic is very similar to the one of ‘firefly farm’ in Bubble Witch Saga 3, where a player is given resource (fairy dust) for the earned stars. The fairy dust is used to build and decorate the main character’s house; player gets a prize for every three house upgrades he makes.

Apparently, the metagame-powered title launched by King became a thing that stimulated Jam City to release their own game with identical metagaming feature.    



Briefly about NPC art design

The NPC animals are designed in a style peculiar for Asian gaming market: they are cute, round and there are a lot of them (below you can find a splash screenshot of Happy Match, a top match-3 title in China).
Obviously, the announcement Jam City made about ‘being halfway towards an IPO’ confirms the guess about Asian markets being their next goal.



Conclusion

Taking a closer look at Jam City’s strategy in terms of casual titles for mobile platforms, the following can be said:  
  1. With acquisition of TinyCo, the company is aiming to release and sell match-3 / bubble titles based on franchises using the best practices of ready-made engines and growing their audience through use of new settings. For example:
    1. match-3 title Family Guy - Another Freakin' Mobile Game (soft-launch stage) is a reskinned version of their hit game Juice Jam
    2. bubble title, Snoopy Pop (soft-launch stage) is a reskinned version of their hit game Panda Pop.
  2. The company retains audience by releases of sequels, for example, a new title Cookie Jam Blast (soft-launch stage) attracts and keeps the established players of Cookie Jam in game with well-known setting. It would be natural to do a re-launch of bubble title and release Panda Pop 2 with metagame.  
  3. The company is aimed at development of trendy match-3 games having metamechanics of Safari Smash type, potential for entering Asian markets and with the production speed fast enough to keep up with one of its main competitors, King.com.
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Posted by Renatus on March 10, 2017