Free the Fruit, by Boost: A Review
On the 29th of March, subscribers to Boost's promotions received an email inviting them to try out a new game. Titled "Free the Fruit", its most immediate draw was the promise of discount vouchers for its products.
For those not in the know, Boost Juice is an Australian company specializing in pop-up booths that sell, well, juices, and smoothies. Founded by Janine Allis in 2000, the company has gone on to become a common sight not just in Australian malls, but also in 16 other countries. It markets itself strongly as being the healthy option for active people, with its add-ons such as chia and lucuma powder referred to as "boosters", and comes at a subsequently premium price: $5 to $7 for 12 to 20 ounces(?).
Whether or not the marketing or price tag are justified is best left for another review. I'll come clean and admit that I'm not a fan of buying juice in general, but discounts and mobile games? I can definitely get behind that.
Peering over at my girlfriend's screen (since she was a subscriber, not I), I caught the title and decided to try it out as well.
It was not as easy as I had thought.
As it turns out, because it's such a new app, Google Play's search functions did not reveal it, and one (for now) needs to go into a browser to find the page on Boost's website. From there, one follows the link and gets the app. At a cool 70+ MB, the download time was neither long nor short.
So, what is it?
Free the Fruit is a match-3 game in the vein of Candy Crush and Bejeweled. The idea goes: You are Mango Man, a fruit shocked by the news of mass fruitnapping all over Australia. You realize Boost is behind it, and set out on a trek to free your brethren from a pulpy, slurpy fate.
There are a total of six stages, where you visit warehouses in cities such as Brisbane and Perth, and each stage consists of two parts. The first consists of you searching the back room for a certain quota of fruit. Match enough to proceed. The second is a boss fight where your matches decrease the health of whoever happens to be standing in your way.
How to play
The mechanics are simple, but there's a few layers to explore for the more avid player. Back room searches are constrained by either time or number of moves, and only one or two kinds of fruit matter, so mindless swiping won't get you too far (admittedly, it doesn't harm too much either).
Having extra seconds or moves left over gives you more health for the boss fights, which often comes in handy, as they hit you harder than you hit them. You can interrupt their timed attacks by making matches fast enough. However, mixed in with the fruit are skulls; matching the skulls will trigger their attacks instead of yours, and are often necessary to open up space.
As is standard for match-3 games, matching four or more fruit gives you a special fruit that, when matched, clears a larger area. Setting these up can make later levels a lot easier.
To be frank, a lot of the learning curve comes from the lack of instructions. And that's fine. I like figuring things out by observation, and the lax constraints means I can experiment without worrying about dying. What happens, for example, if you match skulls and fruit at the same time? (Answer: you both take damage.) Or what if you match four skulls at once, and get a super skull? (Answer: it does the same amount of damage.)
Past that, though—objectives that can be solved purely by decision-making and skill—the player is subject to the same RNG roller coaster present in all match-3 games. If you need to match 40 watermelons, and there's only one in the grid, you're going to have a hard time. Conversely, you can make a single match and trigger a series of matches, ala Rube Goldberg machine, that clears the screen, except you had no part at all in the setup.
Bells and whistles
The music is suitably corny, setting the mood nicely without being distracting. Marimbas and pops in the warehouse stages invoke ancient memories of Crash Bandicoot, while the boss fight piece vaguely resembles the Batman theme song in style. Neither is it borderline malicious, such as Candy Crush's creeping hypnotic drone. It's not terrible, which makes it good.
The graphics are more noteworthy. It's cartoony without being lame. It's chock full of little details and slick animations that an executive could have easily panned but didn't—the unique smiles each type of fruit exhibits when you free them, or the attack and hurt animations the bosses make. It blends into the overall experience, so you won't notice if you're not looking out for it. But it's always great to find something if you are, and such is the case with Free the Fruit.
This is the core reason I was driven to write this.
The quirkiness is easily the biggest plus for this game. While the mechanics are, as later demonstrated, merely simple, the style helps the novelty last longer than it should. It's ripe with puns and little nods to the player that, just like the animations, very well could slip by unnoticed if one were distracted.
Take, for example, the names of the bosses. There's a security guard named Pat Downe. There's a police officer named Miranda Wrights. Little phrases like "Grape Job!" pop up when you chain a series of matching combos.
There is a little bit of perfunctory dialogue when you run through the stages the first time. It's all right. They are the funniest parts, but if you miss them there's no way to find them again unless you reinstall the app, or find an upload of a playthrough, which is not very likely to exist.
This cheeky attitude prevails throughout the game. Janine herself is the final boss, for starters, and I'm not sure how many other CEOs would be willing to put themselves in such a position. There's a kind of perverse glee as you duke it out with these "villains", who honestly are your standard hardworking, blue-collar Australians in any other context. There's not much in the way of gore—obviously not—but some of the attack animations can be quite brutal when given some thought.
In fact, this kind of approach, gratifyingly summarized by the image of a token millennial saying "lol", brings to mind another Australian online success from 2012:
It's good-natured without being placating. Another phrase you may have heard to describe such execution is "wickedly funny". It doesn't have to be violent or mean-spirited to be able to still tap into the schadenfreude-loving side present in all of us.
Gift Vouchers: Legit or Not?
After you've collected enough fruit, you will notice a new button on the menu: A large skull that says "Do Not Press".
Pressing it pans you out of the background. The fruit you've saved is revealed to be in a blender, and Janine shows up to tempt you: hold down the power button, slice them up, and earn for yourself a prize! The more fruit you blend, the better your prize will be, or so she says.
The voucher you receive takes a digital form in your app, so you don't have to worry about printing it out, leaving it at home anyways, and returning to find it's been spirited away in the manner of all loose sheets. Show the cashier the next time you make your purchase and you can redeem it.
There's also the option to log in to Facebook and compete with the rest of the playerbase. Players ranking in the top 5 each week will receive an additional gift voucher, and I have to assume it's better than what you can get from blending.
The catch is two-fold. Firstly, you can only blend every 24 hours. First-time players are likely to make the mistake of blending as soon as they're prompted to, when their collected fruit adds up to about 500—the minimum required. This triggers a sense of buyer's regret, and you're bound to wonder, "What if I had waited for more?"
Now, since it was me and my girlfriend, we had a way of instantly satisfying that curiousity. So I played and played and activated my blend for the day at around 3100. The result was, to our surprise, the same as hers. And there is the second catch: even if you collect more, a better reward is not guaranteed.
Rewards from blending fruit
$3 off any Boost, 7 day expiry
$3 off any Boost, 8* day expiry
$3 off any Boost, 8* day expiry
6/4 EDIT: I have been told that blending 10,000 fruit gives you a free drink. You can't use the vouchers together, but having two $3 vouchers (at 3000 fruit each, in two days) is essentially getting one drink free. You still maximize your discount output if you drink regularly by blending the minimum each day.
Is It A Good Game?
There was a game that went by Muffin Slash or Muffin Break, a solidly C-tier Fruit Ninja clone released by Kenny Rogers in Malaysia a year or so ago. If you hit a certain score threshold, you could show the store manager and get either a free sundae or half a dozen muffins (for which they are famous). Curious, I downloaded it after we placed our orders, and hit the highest tier required in about five minutes. In fact, the time it took for the manager to process what had happened was longer than the game experience, but in the end I got my prize. I decided to take the lack of challenge in the challenge as generosity, and not hilarious underestimation of the average player's skill level, and grew a little fatter that day.
Let's be clear: as a promotional product, Free the Fruit is great. The production is respectable, it's got a lot of novelty going for it, it's even got an element of challenge. You get a tangible money return on the time you spend playing, and that's not something you can say for a lot of games (unless you're in the business of flipping accounts). Yet, it's because of this that makes it hard to judge.
Games are traditionally reviewed based on their enjoyability. In other words, we try to quantify fun as the key return. Adding a monetary value makes it tough to separate your feelings, because discounts are universally positive things. How much of this goodwill I'm feeling is because of the quality of the game, and not because I get $3 off my next juice?
In the end, it's the core elements that are the weakest: the match-3 aspect, and the fact that it's promotional. Match-3 games, for all their additional layers, powerups, and delusions of thinking that you can somehow plan your way to victory, get repetitive quickly. And this particular one has to be simple to achieve the broad appeal it needs. Making it too complicated results in a turn-off, especially for its non-hardcore audience—Boost fans who identify themselves as healthy and active. The quirks, as pleasing as they are, don't change this.
For Boost fans, there is no reason to not play this. Simply subtitute whatever mobile game you happen to play. As shown above, not only do you get discounts for Boost drinks, you also get codes that boost your game with every purchase. It's a cycle that feeds into itself magnificently, and you benefit at every stage.
For non-Boost fans, though, you're not likely to spend more than 5 to 10 minutes a day on Free the Fruit, not unless you feel really lucky about rolling a higher discount. Again, it's not that it's a bad game. It's a good one that's pretty and simple to pick up and play. There's just no real reason to play any longer than the minimum when there's no real progression.
And before you mention leader boards, the current top as of writing is 32965, held by a Blake R. For reference, the first stage gives you about 100 to 170 fruit. Unless you want to make a point, you're better off being a casual like the rest of us.
Some tips for new players
1) Match more than three for a super fruit. The kind of bonus you get is seemingly random, but you can tell what they'll do from their glow. Matching a dodgy fruit (the one with the disguise) in a match of 3 will also give you a super fruit.
2) For time-limited challenges, just swipe like mad. Pay attention to make sure the fruit you're matching is the fruit you need every now and then, but generally volume is the way to go. Fruit wiped by supers also count to your quota.
3) For move-limited challenges, try to prioritize the matches you can get before resorting to random fruit. Say you need oranges. If you swiped 3 oranges, you're lucky if you get just 1 in the replenishment. Eventually you're going to completely run out. So it's fine if you have to spend a move or three on apples or watermelons, because you're thinning those out instead, setting up for a sweep.
4) Don't waste extra moves or time. The bonus health comes in handy for the boss fight after.
5) For boss fights, just swipe fast, even if it means swiping skulls. Skulls count as matches, so the board won't reshuffle if they can be matched (even though there's no fruit). You don't need to pick any one kind of fruit over the other; just be consistent and you'll make it through.
6) When you've blended your fruit, look at Mango Man's reaction when you return to the main menu for one of the quirkiest Easter eggs I've seen in a game. You monster!
Free the Fruit is something you should pick up if you find yourself playing on your phone for productivity breaks during work. You lose nothing from it except whatever progress you would have otherwise made on other games. Not a terrible tradeoff, indeed. Just don't expect to be playing it long term.
© 2016 Lancie Herald