Developer: A Crowd of Monsters
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad
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Sugar Kid has all the trappings of a game that would be wonderful. Would be, that is, were it not introduced into an App Store climate with well over 650,000 titles. As it stands, though, the shiny exterior belies a somewhat clunky, ultimately rote physics puzzler; a bitter reminder that standards have changed in mobile.
All is not well in Mr. Lemon’s world, where the adorable titular cube has usurped the throne. Conveniently, all he wants to do with it is stand helplessly at the bottom of a pit, leaving old (literal) sourface free to pour a deadly mixture of water, lemonade and fizzy drinks down from the heavens. As benevolent deity, it’s the player’s job to draw fragile lines of non-sentient sugar onto the screen to shield Sugar Kid from an untimely death.
Aesthetically, the game is a mixed bag. In its individual elements, there’s no lack of polish: the sewn-on patchwork menus and constantly changing papercraft backgrounds all exude a sense of hand craftsmanship. Rather, it’s that -- after a little while with the game -- it feels like Sugar Kid is in the midst of a perpetual identity crisis. From the aforementioned menus and backgrounds to the game’s jokingly macabre infusion of gory damage and death, each visual strand feels like an unfinished sentence; an underdeveloped homage that could have formed its own foundation for the game, instead of sharing screen time with other ideas from brainstorming.
Similarly, gameplay feels like developer A Crowd of Monsters is throwing concepts at a wall to see what sticks. In the main campaign, players will have to survive until the time runs out, pop Sugar Kid out of a floating bubble, and divert liquid flow into squares on the ground. The first two modes often produce a satisfying sense of “will I make it?!” tension, but the latter feels listless, and like a compromise for spending more time on crafting more creative levels in the game’s stronger modes. This is to say nothing of the fact that many levels seem to devolve into directionless attempts to swipe at the screen long enough to survive the onslaught of inevitable damage.
Sugar Kid’s core problem is that it refuses to abandon the visual and mechanical samplings that stretch it thin to pursue with conviction a clear thesis for what it wants to be. By no means is it outright bad. Rather, it realizes the one thing it continually asks you to prevent, its protagonist's greatest fear: being watered down.