|Publisher: iWin Genre: Puzzle & Trivia|
|Min OS X: 10.3|
IntroductionSome games have very mysterious names: Avernum, Katamari Damacy, Ouba. But then there are the names which tell you almost everything: Need For Speed, Guitar Hero, Rock'em Sock'em Robots.
Jewel Quest II? Let me guess. It's a sequel to a Bejeweled clone where you solve puzzles to continue the story. Hey, I got it in one try! (For my encore I will now guess the plot to "Snakes on a Plane".)
But the devil is in the details. Is the game fun? Is it polished? Is player progress rewarded with new sights, sounds, and puzzle elements? Is the gameplay rich enough to allow for different strategies? In the case of Jewel Quest II, the answer is yes to all of these questions. And there's head-to-head internet play as well. So there's a lot I like about it, but I found this game to be a flawed jewel.
GameplayThe basic gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played Bejeweled or one of its many clones. Swap adjacent color-coded jewels on a grid of squares to match three or more in a line. Matched jewels disappear and new jewels come down to fill the spaces. Like the original Jewel Quest, levels are finished by making a match on every square on the board, which turns each tile gold.
Jewel Quest II adds some fun wrinkles. Some jewels are partially "buried"- they are visible but cannot be moved until matched once to turn them into a normal jewel. Matching them a second time finally removes them. But the truly nasty challenge is the fully buried jewels. Not only do they have to be matched three times to remove them, before the first match you can't even see what the jewel is! You must build possible matches using trial and error until the correct one partially unburies it. I groan whenever I see one of these, but of course the extra challenge makes the game much more interesting.
The board's shape also varies from level to level. Some arrangements require carefully arranging a stack of jewels in order to ensure that the correct color drops into a place, and the clock is always ticking. Some levels would frankly be impossible if it weren't for the gold coins. When coins appear they can be matched in triplets like the jewels. Doing so earns a "special move" which lets you click on any square to either turn it gold or un-bury a jewel on that square. Deciding when to use up these moves is a large part of the strategy of the game.
I was dismayed at how difficult the game got in the early levels. I am not an experienced jewel matching gamer (jeweler? bejeweler?) and wondered if I was in over my head. But the difficulty lowers again when each milestone is reached on the map. I learned to spend extra time on the easier levels collecting extra special moves. An alternate strategy is to fill the board quickly to earn extra lives faster.
PresentationJewel Quest II uses bright, colorful two dimensional graphics to good effect. Everything is nicely laid out and clear. Jewels move, glow, and vanish with the right amounts of animation- nothing too distracting, no overuse of particles flying around the screen (a common mistake made by casual games, in my opinion.) There aren't any fancy three dimensional effects here, and they aren't needed.
The click and chime sounds are pleasant, very important given the repetitive nature of games like this. The music is full-sounding and uses instruments that evoke the African theme well. Each "chapter" of the single-player game features a new musical track, at least until they start repeating. I would have liked a few more musical tracks to switch between, and some of the tracks are overly dramatic, more suited to a life-or-death struggle than to matching jewels. Perhaps the theme could have turned ominous as time begins to run out (Atlantis Sky Patrol managed this nicely.)
In short, the game is appealing and attractive.
Quest Mode (Single Player)Jewel Quest II comes with a large number of levels, advertised as 180 (though this probably includes the tournament levels.) As a reward, finishing each level takes the player a step further along a story of a professor traveling through Africa, searching for treasure and archeological discoveries. After each puzzle a dot is filled in on the map, a page of the professor's journal is revealed, some new scenery appears, and it's on to the next level.
Something I enjoyed even more is that when a milestone is reached on the map, a new theme is introduced. The entire game board, backdrop, music, and even some of the jewels are replaced. I found these themes are appealing and the change decreased the monotony. (My favorite theme was the waterfall; every puzzle advanced the time of day, mirroring the journal entries.)
Once the first map has been completed a new character's journal begins. I was a little disappointed to find that the map and the visuals for the next part of the story were identical. I also found the actual story to be unsatisfying and uneven. The professor comes across as manic-depressive, talking rationally in one entry, then breaking into crazed ranting in the next. I would have preferred a more sympathetic character. The journal entries even have occasional grammatical errors as well. For example: "I smiled dumbly at everyone as they stare at me," or, "The land is far more inviting than anything else I have yet to encounter."