Jewel Master: Egypt
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-11-13 Nintendo DS Puzzle E (Everyone) Storm City Games

I had my first experience with the Jewel Master ideology earlier this year with Jewel Master: Cradle of Rome. At the time, the gameplay was a new and fresh take on the match-three genre. Now, Storm City Games is at the helm, offering us a continuation in the series that takes us from Rome to Egypt, but with multiple PC offerings (some even free) incorporating the same, now standard, template, Egypt unfortunately fails to hold the same spark as its predecessor.

Jewel Master: Egypt continues in the idea of creating a massive civilization from scratch via your progress through a tweaked match-three puzzler. Egypt's pieces come in the form of stacks of lumber, rings, figs, coins, loaves of bread and other items befitting an ancient Egyptian theme, with each "match three or more" combination adding to your running totals of supplies, gold, and food.

Each level tasks you with turning blue tiles to tan ones by creating a match on top of them, with your progress being timed (for those that played Cradle of Rome, note that your time limit is now substantially shorter). Later levels add another layer to the titles, forcing you to create two matches on them before they turn gold, while other tiles are locked up in chains, forcing you to make either one or two matches with said locked pieces before they can be moved (and therefore, before their tile can be turned to gold).

Bonus tile types once again factor into the equation, with sticks of dynamite allowing you to destroy a single tile, lighting destroying 20 tiles at once and so on, adding a bit more variety and strategy to the system, in that each level may have a different power-up available, so you would want to conserve whatever power-up that's currently inactive for when it's needed most, as you won't be able to replenish it.

After each level, you can use your food, gold, and building materials to construct various portions of the town, starting with a simple settlement and a well, and eventually moving on to bigger and grander structures (obelisks, palaces, famous landmarks, etc.). There are 100 levels available in all, with later buildings requiring appropriately larger amount of resources to build, so you'll need all of those levels if you want to build everything.

Unfortunately, you're unable to fly through Egypt the way you could with Cradle of Rome. By allowing you to create a subsequent match while another one is still in the process of disappearing, the game allows for a quicker pace for more experienced users, which is appreciated. However, this pace is short lived, and slows considerably when taking into account the one major change between Cradle of Rome and Egypt, that being the addition of a single scarab to the playing field. After you have successfully transformed the appropriate tiles, the scarab appears, and must be allowed to drop to the bottom of a column before the level actually ends.

The scarab's spawning location seems to correlate with the area of your last match, which tends to be in a far corner or otherwise precarious spot on the field, so if you just spent a few frustrating minutes trying to get a match in these isolated areas before, you are now forced to do so all over again in order to get the scarab to the bottom of the field. This simply adds far too much challenge, and by extension, downright annoyance to a system that should be more about mindless fun than luck.

Technically speaking, the playing field in each level is complex, making each tile quite tiny, and allows you to easily tap on the wrong one if your actions are not precise. While this in itself isn't a deal breaker, it can waste a couple of seconds, with time now being at a premium with the addition of the scarab mechanic.

When taken as a whole package, Jewel Master: Egypt isn't a terrible title. Its graphics and soundtrack are fitting of the Egyptian theme, with the soundtrack itself being a calming and ethnic assortment of instrumental tracks, but the game simply isn't as addictive as others in the genre tend to be, due to its unavoidable spike in difficulty at the end of each level (again, unless you have luck on your side). For what it is, Jewel Master: Egypt works well enough, but if you haven't played Cradle of Rome, the original is definitely the way to go.

Special thanks to Melissa Niedringhaus and Storm City for providing a copy of this title.