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25 April, 2016

Filly Witchy's Witchy Adventure - Overview

In addition to a wide range of collectible figurines, plush toys and miniature plastic architecture, the Filly brand possesses a number of digital applications. So far all of them are made for mobile devices, and for the most part they are quite simple: collections of biography for each Filly, minigames where the player is supposed to draw the characters, the ability to add frames and various objects to the photos taken by the device's camera - features that define entertainment, but not games, strictly speaking.

However, there are two mobile Filly applications that differ from the rest: they feature actual challenging gameplay. The names of these applications are Filly Cupcake Shop and Filly Witchy's Witchy Adventure. The subject of this article is the latter one, since there is quite a lot to say about it.

The structure of Filly Witchy's Witchy Adventure is simple: there is only one mode, which takes Alice on an adventure through Zimsala. With help from other Fillys and the player, she has to conquer 50 levels, divided into 8 locations.
House of Light, Flower Tree, House of Heart, Water Tower, Windmill, Sunset Lake, Windy Point and Dragon's Fire.
The circles on the ground (and sometimes water) are the levels themselves. Each level in this game is done in the genre of Match 3 games.
Examples of levels.
At first these levels are very simple - all they require from the player is to match three or more gems of the same color in a row and gain points, until the score reaches the required number. The first location (and a small fraction of the second location) are dedicated to acquainting the player with the special gems.

As the game goes on, levels become tougher, and offer a lot of gimmicks, such as logs you gotta cut, obstacles you gotta remove, cupcakes you gotta collect, treasure chests you gotta open by dropping keys on them, and some more. The rich variety of goals and level structure makes every level unique, even though the main point of each level is to match 3 or more gems in a row.

Scattered across the 8 locations are the 6 story scenes, each of which tells a part of the game's plot.
Each scene is a set of pictures accompanied by text. The pictures are slightly animated: all characters blink once in a while, they wave their arms, their hair is blown by the wind, and so on. Each shot is pleasing to the eye and, for the most part, very detailed.

The plot itself is very simple: Alice finds a piece of what she assumes is a treasure map, and follows its directions, finding more fragments on the way. What makes this plot enjoyable is all the different locations Alice goes through - this game shows both seen and unseen locations of Zimsala, and all of them are represented well enough to properly show how beautiful and mystical this land is.
Sadly, the resolution of this plot does not properly close the game. Not to delve too much into the spoiler territory, the story of Filly Witchy's Witchy Adventure feels incomplete, and its ending is seemingly absent.

At this point I have pretty much described what this game is like. Now it's time to address something a lot of mobile games suffer from: the business model.

Filly Witchy's Witchy Adventure does not cost anything to play, and in many mobile games this usually means that the gameplay will be accompanied by ads.
Surprisingly enough, Filly Witchy's Witchy Adventure, being free to play, features no ads what so ever. No popup bars on the sides of the screen, no pictures, no video clips - this game does not even advertise other Filly games at any point. The lack of ads and unexpected popups helps to add a trait that is rather rare among free to play mobile games: immersion.

The game is not entirely free of the typical mobile market business model, however: it features an in-game shop, where the player can buy items to make Alice's journey easier. The items are divided into three groups: items that are bought with the in-game currency, items that are bought with the real life currency, and items that restore your life - those are bought both with the in-game and real life currencies. To make things easier, I've divided them into two groups, in accordance to the currency types.
All real life currency items. As of the 24th of April 2016, 70.00 RUB is ~1.04 USD.
The first thing one may notice (after some slight grammar problems) is how actually cheap the items are - none of them rise any higher in price than one dollar, and the obligatory life refilling item costs even less than that, and gives you all the life back, not just one iteration of it.
The second thing one may notice is that none of these items offer any major gameplay advantage: the Necklace and the Hat are glorified special gems that occasionally appear on the grid, the Wand's, Broom's and Sandglass' bonuses are relatively helpful, but can be safely ignored. The only item that seems vital is the Elixir, which refills your life, but the game's life system is balanced in such a way that you'll never need to buy one. I'll explain later.
All in-game currency items.
Weak Elixir, on the other hand, often may come in handy, as may Magic Necklace. Crystal Ball and Magic Sandglass are fairly useless, on the other hand. Magic Necklace is very useful when the situation of the grid just does not allow the player to do a gem match that would lead to victory, and Weak Elixir refills the player's life so they can return to playing the game, for a small price of 100 horseshoes.

The life system in this game is most worthy of mentioning. The player has a life bar of 5 hearts.
Cobalt Leaves is the account name.
The first and probably the most important attribute of the lives system is that it diminishes only if the player fails to clear a level. If the level is cleared, no hearts are consumed, which makes the lives system more akin to the traditional lives system found in many other games: that is, the lives system in Filly Witchy's Witchy Adventure is inherently linked with the player's skill (and partially luck), instead of an arbitrary restriction that often shuffles its way into other mobile games.

The life bar remains intact even if the player decides to leave the level before making a move, which is also a very fair design decision.
Left: before making a move; Right: after making a move. Forgive the grammar error.
The second attribute of the lives system is how long it takes for it to recharge. One heart in Filly Witchy's Witchy Adventure takes 20 minutes to come back, which is a surprisingly small amount of time, especially when the previous attribute is taken into consideration.
The failure clock.
Finally, the third attribute, which is not strictly an attribute of the lives system itself, is the way the player obtains the in-game currency: horseshoes. The majority of horseshoes will be spent on Weak Elixirs to keep the life at maximum, and so their 100 horseshoes cost needs context. Where do these horseshoes come from?

Horseshoes are given to the player at the end of each level: 60 if the player clears the level for the first time, and 30 otherwise. What's interesting about it is that the 30 horseshoes are given regardless of the player's success: whether the level is failed or cleared, the player is guaranteed to receive 30 horseshoes (provided the player actually reaches either failure or success without exiting the level).
Failure screen, still giving 30 horseshoes.
This means that even if you fail five times in a row and empty your life bar, in the process you will have received 150 horseshoes - more than enough to buy a Weak Elixir and try again. The ratio of horseshoes received to horseshoes spent in this game is much higher than one might expect from a free to play mobile game, to say the least. It also allows for relatively painless replay sessions of the first, easy levels, in order to acquire a lot of horseshoes and buy a lot of life elixirs, to ensure that the gameplay has as few interruptions are possible.

Of course, the game would have been infinitely better if the lives system wasn't there in the first place, but the way it is balanced in Filly Witchy's Witchy Adventure should be a shining example of how to do this business model without murdering the game itself. In addition, the horseshoes the player accumulates can be transferred to their MyFilly account on http://myfilly.com/ [warning: sound], where they can be spent on the player's very own Filly and their room.

Overall, Filly Witchy's Witchy Adventure is a fine treat in the world of mobile gaming: actual challenging gameplay, beautiful art, a reasonable microtransactions system, lore for Filly fans, no ads, and superb technical performance. Is there any glaring flaws in this game?

It has only one music track.