Have you ever thought about being a candyman? Of course you have. Maybe you dreamt of striking it rich in a high-tech candy lab, combining high-fructose corn syrup with various unnaturally hued dyes. Or maybe you're a bit of a romantic, and you fancy taking a rainbow, wrapping it in a sigh, and then soaking it in the sun to make a groovy lemon pie? And you could, certainly — but there's another way, a better way, and Gregory Weir's new game Sugarcore is here to open your eyes.
The premise is simple enough. See, there's delicious candy out there for those brave enough to mine it. Using only your mouse, you must spin a giant orb made of coloured candy blocks. Incoming bullets will fire automatically, and your job is to get them to strike the blocks of your choice, which destroys them and adds their value to your score. Some colours are worth more than others, and you'll have to dig deep and execute some fancy moves to get at them.
Of course, you'll also have to watch out for chocolate, which will liquefy if you hit it and fill up all the empty blocks you've destroyed, undermining your hard work. And then there are the candy's natural defenses… but I'm sure you won't have any trouble with that. You're a pro!
Although Sugarcore starts out slowly, the pace quickly escalates as you advance through the levels. Three different characters will assign you missions, each with a different style of play. In addition to mining out valuable candy ore, you will need to use your incredible rotation skills to keep the candy core safe from invaders… or, you know, destroy it.
Your reflexes will have to be quick whatever your assignment, so it's a good thing the mouse control is so responsive and easy to pick up. The downside is that the game only recognises your movements if the cursor remains inside the game's borders; venture outside them, and the candy will either stop moving or jitter around in the wrong direction, which can potentially foul up your objective. While there are a lot of levels, almost none of them are over 60 seconds long, which often means making every move and bullet count.
Analysis: It may look and feel like a puzzle game at first glance, but it's not exactly relaxing. Sure, there's cotton-candy music that reminds me of being five years old and watching clouds drift by overhead. There are adorable character designs and bright colours that look like they came straight out of my old Lego sets. But after a few levels I was leaning forward in my chair, staring at the screen with an intensity usually reserved for open-heart surgery performed by a surgeon with an involuntary twitch. With how swiftly things move along, you're better off just reacting than trying to think out your every move.
Some of the levels are incredibly fiddly, requiring you to move your mouse just so at just the right moment, and even one improperly placed bullet can be the difference between winning and losing. Still, with such bite-sized levels, you're never set back very far. I didn't ever stop having fun, even if I never expected to have quite such a grim attitude towards chocolate. The different objectives for the three sets of levels each present their own unique challenges, and it's good to be able to swap to a different level when another starts to get frustrating.
Don't let Sugarcore's ultra-simple presentation deceive you. There's a surprising amount of charm and cheek here — although perhaps not that surprising if you've played any of Gregory Weir's previous games. There may not be a lot of replayability or depth, but there is a solid amount of fast-paced puzzle blasting, and treating yourself to this candy won't make you feel guilty.