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Juice Cubes: Rovio's cute take on a familiar puzzle game

Hands-on with the Angry Birds developers' own addictive spin on a match-three game.

Chances are good that you've played this sort of game before. Rovio Stars (screenshot by Scott Webster/CNET)

So, you've completed every level of Angry Birds known to man and now you're looking for something else to while away your free time. What's next, Candy Crush Saga? For many casual gamers, that answer is yes. But, before you go down that road, take a look at Juice Cubes, a matching game from Rovio, the developers behind the wildly popular bird-flinging franchise.

Game-makers have been putting their own spin on match-three games for years. While some require players to move tiles or icons around to match up three or more like designs, others have them drawing lines to connect them together. It's such a simple concept to master, yet so hard to put down. Rovio's Juice Cubes is no exception.

Set against a tropical backdrop, your job is to draw a connecting line through three or more cubes. You can move horizontally, vertically, and even diagonally in your effort to create matches. These connecting lines can grow quite long at times, and will yield rewards and bonuses. In a nutshell, the longer the chain, the higher the score and potential bonus. String together four or more, and you'll create a bomb that blows up adjacent tiles or rows.

Players are given a task at the outset of each round and the goal gets harder as you progress through the 200 increasingly difficult levels. Cross a specific score threshold, remove a set number of sand blocks, or beat the clock. It's nothing you haven't seen before, yet Rovio's take is refreshing all the same.

Three-star scoring motivates you to keep playing to perfect your score. Rovio Stars (screenshot by Scott Webster/CNET)

I found this game to be charming on a number of levels, including the graphics and animations. It's immediately obvious that this is not some generic clone. From the music and sound effects to the polished characters, this one oozes cuteness. Since you can beat your own achievement level, awarded in stars, motivation to replay the game is high.

Juice Cubes is free to play, but you can buy into in-app purchases and you will be hit with advertising. While you can earn charms and boosters to help you clear levels, it's often quite difficult. Instead, players are given the option to tip the scales in their favor by purchasing gold bars. Gold ranges from $1.99 (15 pieces) all the way up to $99.99 (1,200 pieces) and can be used to procure extra moves, bombs, and more. I would love to see some free samples of these boosters scattered across the game just so that I know what I would be spending real money on.

Another drawback that I've run into is that players must have gold bars to progress to higher levels in the game. If you don't want to cough up a few dollars, you'll have to ask your Facebook friends to play with you -- if they do, you'll get extra map pieces that'll help move you along. Or, you'll need to find gold "hidden" on the map. Whichever course you take, it's an aggravating sidestep that's almost always worth the $2 fee to avoid, which is exactly what the developers want you to do.

If you're looking for a fun alternative to games like Bejeweled, Candy Crush Saga, and Jelly Dash, then you'll do well with Juice Cubes. I was up and running within moments, and kept reaching for it during my free time. Just know that you may wind up spending a little pocket change on it -- say $5 or more -- before moving on to a new game.