Platform: Nintendo DS (also on Nintendo 3DS)
Developer: Cerasus Media
Publisher: Rising Star Games
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Score: B (80%)
Match-3 puzzle games have a certain healthy reliability to them and while it adds a few new twists to the formula, Jewel Master: Cradle of Egypt 2 is a pretty solid budget game for entry level to veteran genre fans. While it’s not packing fancy HD visuals or flashy special effects, there’s a nicely addictive feel to the gameplay that makes for a game worth replaying multiple times. Featuring three game modes, 100 levels and an interesting resource gathering mechanic that really needs to be expanded on in any future games in this series, CoE2 makes foe a rather cool gift for puzzle fans of any age.
If you’ve played the other Cradle games, you can dive right in and not miss a beat. Your goal is to clear each stage by matching items and making certain colored background tiles disappear. You’ll also have to watch the timer, represented by a vial of water on the top screen. Should it run dry, you lose the stage and need to restart. Timer aside, the pacing here is fairly languid for the most part but the game also does a nice job of randomizing objects so that you never have an idea of what’s on a particular level. The Egyptian theme gets some nice usage with a city map and assorted structures you’ll see built up as you play. Although, you’d also almost think for a hot second that you’re playing something more simulation heavy given the use of assorted citizens that grant you special powers or upgrades one you unlock them. There’s also a pretty basic “leveling” system at play as you reach certain milestones in the game, so you can see yourself eventually becoming a Pharaoh before tackling the last batch of levels.
There are also some interesting power-ups to play around with, some of which are more useful than others. There are two types of bombs, a bolt that zaps random pieces from the map, a piece that randomly shifts other pieces on the board around and a few more. You generally get one power-up per stage that needs to charge up by matching icon pieces on the board, but on rare occasions, you’ll start a level with a second power-up that you can only use once already charged up and ready to go. Personally, I found the bombs and time extending water bottles the best for tackling the trickier boards, but as with any Match-3 experience, skilled players will find their way around just fine.
If you decide to restart a level because it’s too tough or you’re about to run out of time, the game randomizes the parts and power-ups. You can actually use this to your advantage if you have a favorite power up (that time water makes things easier, folks!). Of course, the drawback to replaying stages is it’s easy to get caught up in a restart loop on some of the harder ones if you get too picky. Still, it’s a fair solution for what would be a Game Over in another type of game. There were perhaps half a dozen stages that gave me grief, but all went down quickly except for two where I just couldn’t get the right matching piece to appear in one corner for close to an hour. I had time extension matching prowess big time on those maps, but man, was it a pain to sit there for so long on one puzzle.
As you clear stages, your collected resources need to be used to unlock new parts of the map, so you’ll need to try and gather as much as you can. You’d have to be really terrible at the game to burn through all 100 stages and not unlock everything, but amusingly enough, if you’re TOO good at the game, you don’t get the ending early at all/ You’ll just need to play a whole lot of stages to get to that final level. I ended up with about 30 stages to play in order to see the ending and unlock Blitz Mode, which allows you to replay the game’s 100 stages now with trophies and points awarded as you clear a set amount of boards per difficulty level. You can also replay previously cleared stages presented in a more tightly timed Tourney format for Gold, Silver or Bronze medals. While there’s no co-op or Wi-Fi play at all, you can pass your DS around so friends can try and beat those times you’ve achieved.
As noted above, the game’s visuals are fine enough and get the job done. Music is appropriately sounding Egyptian-sounding warbling and as for sound effects, they’re also fine, but you really only need to pay attention to two: the thumping heartbeat that signifies your time is running out and the clicking sound (which sounds like a gun reloading) your power ups make when they’re ready to use. Overall, Jewel Master fans and Match-3 fans in general should find a lot to love here, but if you’re a fan looking for the next big innovation in the genre, I’d say buy this anyway and keep those fingers crossed that Cerasus goes the extra mile with the next entry. That said, for someone like me who still buys Nintendo DS games, a game like this is a nice addition to the library at a fine price point. Give it a spin and watch the hours fly on by.