So, it's fairly widely believed that King, creators of Candy Crush Saga, don't seem a very lovely lot. In fact, last week brought news of some alleged actions that are deeply unsavoury (geddit?), as the creator of CandySwipe revealed the extent to which King are apparently going to make his game - made in tribute to his late mother - go away. A game that, while not a match-3, happens to have a lot in common with Candy Crush Saga, only it came out two years before King's own. This follows unpleasant behaviour toward Stoic and The Banner Saga, and their attempts to trademark basic English words and use this to legally threaten other developers. So, all in all, yeah, possibly not a company you'd want over for dinner.
Bearing all this in mind, it would seem rather nice if an enormous number of people were to stop playing their games, if you ask me. But of course, a lot of CCS players aren't going to be RPS readers, but rather your mum or dad, cousin, colleague or friend, and maybe they'd be less keen to play if they knew who made it. Maybe you are too. So, with this in mind, below are my suggestions for games to play instead.
The origins of the match-3 game aren't entirely clear. You can argue it goes back to ChainShot!/SameGame in 1985, and then evolves via the likes of Puzznic, and then Magic Jewelry in 1990. Tetris Attack brought in the tile swapping in 1995, as did Russian made Shariki, and at that point you can call it a match-3 as we understand it today. 2000-ish saw Super Collapse! sneak in just before it went big. However, it was in 2001 that Popcap's Bejeweled made it a household concept. Bejeweled went huge. In 2010 it was reported that it had sold 50 million copies.
The original Bejeweled is a very purist interpretation of the Match-3 game, lacking in Candy Crush's sense of "journey", and with fewer tasks to perform along the way. However, since PopCap was bought by EA, they don't seem to acknowledge it any more. There's a version called "Bejeweled" only available on iThings on their website, but it's not the original. In 2004 came Bejeweled 2, but that has also been wiped from their history, creating the rather strange result of only Bejeweled 3 being boasted of on their own site.
Bejeweled and Bejeweled 2 are still available on Steam, in their Deluxe form, although both are currently a rather unreleastic £7. Bejeweled 3 is an eye-watering £15, for a genre that's mostly freemium in 2014. The new iOS Bejeweled is indeed freemium, as is the 60 second version of the game, Bejeweled Blitz, which also graces Android with an appearance.
And then there's Bejeweled Blitz, which is the EAist incarnation yet, a fully monetised version of Bejeweled which is able to make boasts like, "Get up to 50% off Kanga Ruby Rare Gem harvests in the wild," on its store page. "New users get 100,000 coins free," it adds.
By my incredibly accurate opinion the best match-3 game ever made, Zoo Keeper began life on the Nintendo DS. And was fantastic. It's important to note at this point that I once held the 8th highest score in the world for the main game, and that's why I'm amazing. (It's also important to remember that I am better at this game than professional cybernat and online bully Stuart Campbell.) This is match-3 in its purest form, but more importantly, delivered perfectly. The best version remains the DS build, but Zookeeper DX on iOS and Android is still completely great. And best of all - perhaps the reason it's so great - is that unlike CCS it lets you play another move before the grid has finished reacting to the last. To any CCS obsessive, this artificial slow-down must surely be driving them crazy by now. But in ZK, you're sweep-swooshing so fast that crowds gather to worship your hands.
There have been 10,000,000 purchases of the DX version for phones and tablets, which is mighty impressive. And now there's something far more dreadful-sounding called Zookeeper Battle. This is a sort-of two-player version of the game where your playing of a grid creates both an attacking and defensive score, which is then played against an opponent's own from the same start. Each of you has a life bar, and you do your best to wear it down. However, this is an F2P game, and as such manages to find lots of ways to offer to let you pay money. But then perhaps that's the perfect thing for someone trying to ween themselves away from King's sickly sweet game. And there's a little PC flash version of it from the developers you can play for free here.
This one is certainly a step up from the casual nature of CCS, but a worthwhile one. I recently started playing the original Puzzle Quest again, and it's absolutely every bit as engaging. Combining the match-3 game with an RPG, it gets surprisingly involved while maintaining a surface simplicity. You pick your class, which really only affects which coloured gems are most powerful for you to match, and then choose weapons, spells, pets and so on as you progress. There's a ton of story, which isn't that brilliant but gives you a reason to be going on this epic matching-thrice quest. Fighting monsters is an enormously satisfying win, and it's packed with mini-games that offer puzzles and tweaks on the formula. In fact, if you've a CCS-playing friend who you just know would get a kick out of less casual games, this is the best gateway imaginable.
The original Puzzle Quest: Challenge Of The Warlords is still the best, I think. It's on Steam for £7. However, for phones and tablets there's Puzzle Quest 2, which is freemium. I've only played the PC build, which is not infested with IAPs, so I'm not sure how much fun there is to be hand on a phone without forking out a fortune. However, I've just installed it on my Nexus 5 and intend to find out.
There's also Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, which Kieron liked a lot more than I did, and most recently Marvel Puzzle Quest, which didn't appeal to me at all (despite featuring Spider-Man, and I've got a Spider-Man shower squeegie). It's not only not that great of a Puzzle Quest game, but also a gauge-fest of IAPs. It's on iOS and Android for "free", and indeed on Steam for the same. Or, as is rather brutally revealed in the DLC bundle, you could spend a total of £112.97 on it. Don't do that.
One of the best, purest match-3 games there is, and one that's almost entirely broken my brain when it comes to playing the rest. 10,000,000 has you slide the enter line, Chuzzle-style, rather than swap adjacent tiles. Once you get used to that, it's hard to remember how to play the other way. What's so lovely here is it takes the Puzzle Quest ideas of gathering resources and using special abilities as you play, a refines them into a streamlined system that simplifies things splendidly.
It then combines this match-3ing with the sensibilities of an endless runner - your character running to the right, as the world drifts inexorably to the left. Fall off the edge of the screen and you're done. The combination of frantic play and deploying tactics makes it remarkably involved for such a minimalist game, and reaching a score of 10,000,000 makes you feel like the best person on the planet.
2011's Triple Town went through a familiar battle, when 6waves Lolapps produced a clone called Yeti Town. That went through court, and in the end Spry Fox won. It's a very different take on matching three, where placing objects in the world in groups of three causes them to combine to create other objects. Following this logic - bush to tree to hut, etc - you create towns.
It's F2P with what were awkward IAPs to keep playing, but you can now put down $4 and play the whole game unlimited. Or, you can pick it up on Steam for £7.
Also in excellent match-3 territory is Piyo Blocks 2 on Android and iOS. Or you could introduce them to Threes! (iOS only, because creator Asher Vollmer HATES DECENT ANDROID OWNING PEOPLE), the fantastic Flow Free by Big Duck Games (iOS and Android), or iOS release Zircuits, Huebrix on iOS and Android, and so many other top-notch puzzling choices, that don't require forking cash over to his majesty.
Please do leave your match-3 alternatives below.