A Bit Of A Mundane Match Three
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Match-three games are a dime a dozen now, with there being plenty to pick from on PC, iOS, Android, home consoles and handhelds alike. Thankfully, sometimes there are match-three games that bring something new to the table, some kind of new objective or mechanic for players to Crush like Candy, and Jewel Master 2: Cradle of Egypt 3D, for better or worse, isn't wholly unoriginal, mixing and matching a few new things. Do these new mechanics work toward an overall more enjoyable gaming experience? Let's find out.
There's just something that's addicting about match-three games - they're satisfying, but they don't really engage the player in any kind of fashion, like a Bejeweled ornament on a mantelpiece. The core of Jewel Master 2 is about what you'd expect: You swap two tiles and if they match a match of three or more, those tiles disappear and more tiles will fall from the top to fill the space. Rather than just going for a high score of 10,000,000 or something, players will attempt to complete objectives that may be very familiar. There are, on many levels, tiles that have different colored backgrounds and creating a match on these will change their colors back to normal and doing so for all differently colored panels will complete that stage for you - if that sounds like Candy Crush Saga to you then you have the right idea.
Of course, the game does break up segments through a kind of 'story' mode. Essentially, players partake in a Puzzle Quest where they vainly recreate the building of Egypt, learning various facts along the way like a kind of learning game. By completing levels, players gain resources that they can use to go from one chapter to the next, and these aforementioned chapters, called epochs, pretty much have you building things that produce more resources from the tiles you match in-level, and you complete an epoch when you build everything in it from the resources you've acquired in levels.
This isn't exactly a very rewarding scheme since the game is basically keeping you up to par with the requirements of the next epoch, just having you continue the tedium of levels ad nauseam rather than actually gaining anything substantial or advantageous for having done so very well on a couple of stages. Players will build everything from village huts to one of the Seven Wonders (though you don't get to build Luxor, an actual city in Egypt), learning random factoids about each. In this game, it's supposed that knowledge is its own reward, but sometimes in later chapters it can be especially tedious to try and grind one of a particular resource, such as gold, by forcing yourself to match more of the coin tiles to get more gold so you can build the last structure in an epoch and just move onto the next one, rather than setting up multiple cascades/combos and other things that players may like to do instead.
While on the subject of doing well on stages, there's a lot to be spoken about regarding the bonus powers in Jewel Master 2: Cradle of Egypt in that, well, you don't actually get to pick the power you want to use. See, you initially gain access to a pickaxe power that requires charging up by eliminating pickaxe tiles on the board, and all the power does is, once you charge it enough, let you remove exactly one tile from the board. Shortly thereafter players gain access to bombs, which remove a 3x3 section of the board or even an hourglass that lets you stop the time limit temporarily so you can farm more resources.
Doesn't sound too bad, does it? Well, there is a problem: You only get one kind power tile per level, which basically means you only get one power up per level. Sometimes, toward the later stages, you'll get the bombs or the hourglass and you'll breeze through a level with ease...other times you'll face levels with a vast number of locked tiles, ones you can't move but instead need to form matches around, with nothing to use but the pickaxe power up can make a level more of an exercise in frustration rather than entertainment. There's also no real rhyme or reason behind the difficulty of the later half of the game - some stages, with only the pickaxe power up, are nearly impenetrable walls that require a high amount of luck as far as tile placement is concerned simply because there are too many locked tiles to eliminate without some form of blessing from the RNGod.
Of course, there is more to do beyond just matching tiles. There's also sliding picture-tile puzzles that players must partake in after building any structure, so they're a must to continue. A meter fills at the bottom of the screen, however, and once full players who dislike or are more uninspired with those types of puzzles can easily bypass them. Though, for people who absolutely detest those kinds of puzzles it can be annoying to wait a minute or so before being able to go back to the part of the game you wanted to play in the first place.
Of course, after finishing the story mode players gain access to Blitz mode, which is basically all the puzzle action you could have possibly wanted since it'll have you complete the stages from the story, in order, until you run out of time. It's a nice feature, though it would have been great to be able to access it from the get-go rather than needing to force a player's way through the occasional tedium of the story mode.
To summarize: Overall, there's really nothing wrong with Jewel Master 2: Cradle of Egypt. There are some levels that can be frustrating if the die doesn't roll in your favor, but there's a decent amount of tile-swapping content at a pretty reasonable cost. The largest thing is...there's nothing that great about Jewel Master 2 either. It does very little to overhaul the match-three formula, instead borrowing from multiple games of the genre and tossing them all into one bowl.
The game works, there's no gamebreaking glitches, there's nothing inherently wrong with it as it does the match-three formula without any real snags. The one thing that the game tried to add in to be different, the building of Egypt, doesn't really add a whole lot to the overall play of the game. If you're a player who really wants a match three puzzle game, by all means, give Jewel Master 2 a try.
Vincent is an RPG lover and masochist who constantly gets beaten in online fighting games. When in doubt, Shoryuken or Megidolaon. You can write him at : PookandPie@gmail.com.