Great core gameplay with some clever additions to a classic formula
Inconsistent difficulty; uninspired visuals and audio
Jewel Master: Cradle of Egypt 2 has led me to something of a revelation– developers of match three puzzle games are kind of cheating. There is something about this particular subsection of the puzzle genre that is inherently satisfying. If you were to take that simple gameplay element and throw it onto a screen completely unadorned with tweaks to the concept or any artistic vision, most people would probably still be able to get lost in it for more hours than they would care to admit. That being said, Cradle of Egypt 2 doesn’t go that route.
The core is as classic as ever: match three similar tiles to make them disappear and then watch as the tiles tumble downward to fill in the space, and then repeat. Cradle of Egypt 2 uses these mechanics, but adds in an objective; instead of simply going for a high score, you need to break through tiles by creating matching combos over them. Over the course of the game the complexity expands a little, introducing tiles that need two matches to break, chains that require specific symbols to be matched around them in order to be broken, and blocks of ice that need vertical matches directly above them in order to break. These elements, especially the chains and ice, definitely add a greater level of strategy to the proceedings by restricting the available play area, because only after these tiles are cleared can the areas below them fill in. Adding to the pressure is a time limit, forcing you to play with just as much haste as brains.
The pressure is alleviated to some extent by the various power-ups that are unlocked throughout the single player adventure. At first you only have a pickaxe that breaks a single tile, but most new power-ups prove progressively more useful; including various bombs that blow up larger areas, lightning strikes that hit random tiles, and one that randomly shuffles the symbols, resulting in a drastically altered playing field. The most useful power up, though, has to be the hourglass, which increases the time limit and can sometimes be used quickly enough to make time in a level nearly infinite.
However, the power-ups factor into the game’s biggest problem– randomness. First of all, only one power-up is available in a level at a time and it is randomly determined. Sometimes you might have the measly pickaxe on a particularly tough level, and then you fail, restart, and now you have access to the hourglass or lightning bolt. And then there are the symbols you are dealt and their location, which sometimes line up for easy wins and other times form nearly impenetrable walls. The difficulty level also proves random; the first half of the game progresses nicely but the later half spikes and dips with an annoying amount of abandon.
Believe it or not, Cradle of Egypt 2 employs an Egyptian theme throughout the game. The “story” starts with early agricultural society and progresses up to and beyond the building of the great pyramids. You move forward by buying new structures that grow progressively more grandiose, just like those pyramids, which you buy with the gold, food, and resources earned by matching the various symbols in the puzzles. The structures unlock the new power-ups, unlock more valuable symbols, and other bonuses for completing puzzles. This gives the game a greater sense of structure and adds a little to the sense of accomplishment, but in reality it is simply a facade laid over a very strong gameplay concept that is already plenty compelling and rewarding.
Once again, I’m not trying to be too shocking, but the game also looks to Egypt for its art direction, which I suppose is sufficiently and stereotypically Egypt-like. Nothing looks particularly inspired or impressive, but then again this is a relatively cheap puzzle game for DS, and while it is always nice to see a developer stretch its creative legs and create something unique and compelling, the nature of the genre doesn’t demand it and the game doesn’t really suffer without it.
Much of the previous paragraph could have been copied and pasted for the discussion about the game’s audio. You won’t find anything new or amazing here, but the music, as limited and reptitive as it is, does prove surprisingly pleasant and never gets grating, which is kind of surprising considering how much time I spent listening to the same song throughout most of the puzzles. Also, I feel compelled to mention the sound effect that plays whenever you use a power-up, which is that of a pump-action shot gun. Of course this makes absolutely no sense considering the motif of the game or even the items themselves; it doesn’t hurt anything, but it sure is weird.
I’ll be honest with you, I was not really looking forward to playing Cradle of Egypt 2 on DS. I very much prefer the technological advances found in 3DS software, and the glut of casual games that plagued DS throughout its life span left something of a sour taste in my mouth. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this game and found myself playing the game much more than I ever would have guessed. Considering that, Cradle of Egypt 2 still isn’t an amazing game. It takes a great, classic gameplay concept and executes it rather well while adding in some unique twists. None of these new ideas turn the genre on its head or stand out as some sort of revelation, but none really fail either; sometimes they throw the gameplay balance a little off from time to time but the inherent randomness of their nature will usually bounce you back sooner or later. Despite the game’s foibles and flaws, the sheer strength of the match three gameplay simply cannot be denied. Yes, other games definitely do more with the concept, and some do less but at cheaper costs, but you could definitely do much, much worse.