Full Bloom review

Full Bloom is a Facebook game from Disney Playdom. It has been around since April of this year but has recently undergone something of a growth spurt, showing up as the No. 19 top gainer by DAU at the time of writing.

Full Bloom starts up by loading its main screen and then immediately asking the player to click on a button to load another screen as part of its tutorial. It doesn’t give any context as to what the game is about, doesn’t give an introduction sequence and doesn’t introduce who this character issuing orders is. This doesn’t set the best first impression, particularly when following the instructions appears to throw the player into yet another very conventional-looking level-based match-3 puzzler.

However, as it happens, spending a little more time with the game reveals that Full Bloom is actually considerably better than its rather rushed first impression. It blends two distinct gameplay components that aren’t normally seen together to create a surprisingly coherent and satisfying experience, putting a good twist on the rather stagnant match-3 puzzle genre.

Full Bloom casts players in the role of someone who has come into possession of an old ruined garden for reasons that are never made entirely clear. Through a combination of completing match-3 puzzle levels of various descriptions and rebuilding the garden, the player will grow their reputation alongside their flowers and help to restore the garden to its former glory. Essentially, the game takes the structure of a hidden object game — a genre that Playdom is well familiar with — and replaces the hidden object scenes with match-3 puzzles. It’s a formula that works well.

The match-3 puzzles come in various flavors. Most of the time, players will be tasked with matching a certain number of flowers within a move limit, but occasionally they will come across time-limited levels or stages where they need to match bees rather than flowers. The bees, which also show up in normal levels after the first couple of introductory challenges have been completed, provide one of the twists on the usual match-3 formula — every few moves, they fly around the grid and land on a flower, and flowers with bees on them may not be moved. They may be matched, however, which removes the bee from the board.

Upon completing a level, the player’s score is added to a cumulative total which earns them progress towards a star for that level. Completing a star provides the player with currency and experience, but it is impossible (or at least extremely difficult) to earn enough points to fill more than one star in a single attempt. This means that each level will require at least three attempts in total — and probably more — to earn a top rating. When combined with the game’s energy system, this mechanic forms a big part of the game’s monetization strategy, keeping completionist players coming back to earn the maximum ratings.

Every so often, the player will run up against a progress wall in the match-3 puzzle section, at which point they have to return to their garden and build up their reputation by planting flowers, removing debris and generally beautifying the environment. The game does not use an energy system in this section, meaning it can be played even when energy for playing match-3 levels has run out, though it does limit certain actions such as clearing debris, and requires cooperation with friends (or the expenditure of hard currency) to acquire certain resources or to help repair structures. Purchasing items with hard currency also tends to give a bigger reputation boost than those that cost soft currency, making it easier for paying players to make quicker progress.