What lies behind the cheerful gaze of the Lollipop Merchant? Not the subversive, critical commentary you might be looking for so much as a gentle reminder that games are supposed to be fun.
Sometime in early April, a hobbyist developer known only as Aniwey released a browser-based game called Candy Box. It went unnoticed for around three weeks, at which point it exploded onto the Twittersphere; games media output slowed and almost stopped as practically every on-shift writer devoted themselves to mastering the art of candy production and its various uses, which include but are not limited to slaying dragons.
Candy Box seems pretty stupid when you first fire it up. You are slowly accumulating candies, which you can eat or throw away. So what? Show a bit of patience, though, and you'll find yourself crafting potions, tactically combining scrolls, interacting with the strange denizens of what I'm calling Candy Land, and roaring in rage when your fail to navigate through the legions of Hell arrayed against you - again.
Once you start unlocking its secrets, you don't want to stop - even though the mechanics are extremely simple. This in turn is responsible for one of the most delicious aspects of Candy Box: the spluttering defence of the very same game mechanics which are so derided when they crop up in social, casual, and mobile games.
Of course, Candy Box is completely free, and you will never gain anything by nagging your friends about it; it doesn't even provide you with a basic Twitter plug in to help spread the word. This makes it infinitely more palatable to those who rail against the effects of the mobile and social bubble, but it's still interesting to note just how compelling those simple mechanical heart is when stripped of all the guff.
It's no wonder social developers rely on these systems so heavily; they really work, and with the right wrapping, they can be hugely entertaining. It's an uncomfortable truth for many a Zynga and EA detractor, and some have found peace by dressing Candy Box up as some sort of subversive critique of the genre - which means you can play it without trading in your pseudo-intellectual hipster game critic cred.
Unfortunately, Aniwey has gone on record more than once denying any such intention.
"I didn't made it thinking about a critique of social game mechanics," the 18 year old told us in an email interview.
"But I never play social games (I'm not registered on Facebook, by the way), and I hate those kind of game which required you to pay something in exchange of a gameplay modification. I don't think I would enjoy most of the social games out there."
So no, Aniwey wasn't inspired by social games, and for those still in pursuit of a genre touchstone, they've never played a classic rogue-like, either.
"I've never played any old ASCII RPG game, I'm too young for that. I think I was just inspired by various RPGs out there; my game is mainly classical RPG mechanics shaped in an original way."
It is an original way, but it's also a timeless way; as discussed above, Aniwey isn't keen on social mechanics, and has no plans to ever make Candy Box collaborative in any sense, because like the best old school RPG, it tells a personal story.
"When you arrive in the game, it's all yours. When you get the wooden sword, it's a real victory," Aniwey said.
"Watching other players fighting with diamond swords at the same time you're fighting with your wooden sword wouldn't be interesting I think. There can only be one hero in this game."
There have actually been at least 819,000 heroes. Of these, only 103,908 have completed the game in full, and very few will have seen all its secrets - although, somewhat disappointingly, Aniwey says players have already discovered them all.
800,000 players is a pretty big deal for what is, quite clearly, an extremely niche genre. Candy Box took about two months to make, in Aniwey's spare time. There's no advertising or other money-making ventures available on the hosting site, and despite going viral a few weeks ago, the server costs don't amount to much. It's purely a labour of love, a joyful exploration of the simple pleasures of stripped-back game design produced purely because it could be. It achieved nothing, makes no money, and serves no purpose other than to make you smile.
A follow-up project and perhaps a sequel is on the cards; I can't wait to see what Aniwey produces next.