Jewel Master: Cradle of Rome
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-12-04 Nintendo DS Puzzle E (Everyone) D3P / Rising Star Games

Match three is the base of many entertaining puzzle games, and I admit I am a big fan of this type of puzzles. Cradle of Rome follows this basic rule to create probably what has been the most addictive puzzle I have played since Puzzle Quest.

The mechanics are similar to Magic Lanterns, Fortune Tiles and Zen Fashion, where you must create combination of three or more of the same kind of symbol by swapping two adjacent pieces.

The touch screen becomes your puzzle field, while the top screen gives you information on your available resources and time remaining (the water jug) for a given puzzle. The goal isn't really to complete the puzzle before the timer is up, but to gather as many resources as possible within the time limit.

But Cradle of Rome actually has more to it that it initially seems. Your reason for playing all these puzzle stages is to restore the buildings of the ancient civilization, bringing it back to its old splendor. To do so, you need resources, which are all over your puzzle field.

Resources are separated into three types: gold, food and supplies. Gold is accumulated by matching silver, gold, gem, pearl, goblet or brooch symbols. You can harvest food by matching flour, fish, meat and fruit symbols. As for Supplies, you have stone and wood. Matching three of the same kind of resource gives you 3x the amount per tile, while a four-of-a-kind or five-of-a-kind reward you respectively 8x and 20x the amount per tile. The higher the combo, the more resources you harvest.

To build the next available building, you enter the Epoch menu and select the picture of the building. It will tell you how much of each resource is needed to build it. Tapping "Details" will give you a brief historical overview of what the purpose of the structure was. "Buy" will purchase the building (if you have enough resources) and place it in the village, while "Show" zooms in on it for a better look. Once you have built all the buildings in a certain Epoch, you move on to the next.

But there aren't only resource tiles in the puzzle field. Each puzzle board is made up of several tiles and different designs/shapes. Some puzzle boards contain blue marble plaques, which means you must make a combo on these tiles to break them. Darker blue tiles mean tougher marble, so you will need two combos to break these. When all the marble plaques are broken (the background of the puzzle has no blue left) the level is complete.

But there are also chained tiles, which means that particular item is locked there until you break the chain by matching it with its respective kind or using a bonus item. Bonus items appear on the top right corner of the touch screen when available. These are unlocked by purchasing certain buildings and matching special items on those particular buildings. Bonus items include the Hammer (destroys one selected tile, including marble plaque or chained item), Lightning (destroys 20 random tiles), Star (breaks all of the same type of item), Hourglass (pauses timer for 30 seconds) and several others.

A vast array of bonus tools adds even more incentive to continue the game for as long as possible. Unlocking these tools not only makes clearing the board easier, but also increases the opportunity to gather more resources, gold and treasure!

Although the puzzle mechanics are simple, the game seems to constantly encourage you to play a bit more, be it to build a new structure or unlock a new bonus item. By the time you notice, a couple of hours have gone by and then you feel bad that you probably should have been doing other things (or maybe that's just me!).

The presentation is quite nice, and I especially like the artwork for the buildings and the way they appear in the village area. The icons on the puzzle fields are all easy to recognize as well, and the music - while not too varied - is pleasant.

I did have a few issues with the touch controls, sometimes when selecting a tile the cursor would appear over a completely different tile - even after recalibrating the DS several times. Still, it was nothing to make the gameplay any less enjoyable. If you're looking for your next portable puzzle addiction, Cradle of Rome is it.

Special thanks to Gryphon Ward, Tamara Sanderson and D3P for providing a copy of this title.