Created generations ago, the match-three puzzle was popularized by the likes of Diamond Mine and Bejeweled when the masses could play them in web browsers. Every game-enabled device and platform has since seen a variation of the core mechanic. Some have added improvements while others spruced up the backstory. Either way, you won't find too many people who aren't familiar with the rules of a match-three game. In an attempt to present some value, Storm City Games released Jewel Master Collection, a cart that is comprised of two games in the series.
There's nothing radically new in Jewel Master Collection. Both of the games in the package, Jewel Master: Egypt and Jewel Master: Cradle of Athena, have been released years before on the Nintendo DS. Both titles are likely still in circulation, and online searches show that the price of this cart is equivalent to buying both carts separately. You're merely paying for the convenience of having two games in one place.
No matter which game you choose to play, both titles follow the same gameplay mechanics. You're given a board with several different objects in it. The boards come in different shapes, and all contain tiles that are colored differently from the rest of the board. Your job initial job is to clear out all of the colored tiles by making matches on top of said tiles. Once that's completed, an object is placed on top of the board (a scarab in Egypt and an orb in Athena). Your task is to then match more objects so that the object in question falls to the bottom of the board, clearing the stage before time expires.
The completion of a stage introduces the world building scenario. All of the objects you match in the game are counted as three different forms of currency, which is then used to buy things to grow civilization, such as farms or settlements or temples. Some civilization components give you benefits, such as the ability to erase an item that might block you from making a match or the ability to add more time to the clock or destroy a locked object. Things like this will come in handy as you go through the 100 stages offered per game.
There are a few things the game does that will strike a few people as odd. Due to the odd shapes of some of the boards, there are times when the objects simply spill out instead of going straight down, like most puzzle games do. Sometimes, this works out in your favor because it provides more immediate matches, but other times, it can be infuriating if you were counting on a specific object to occupy a certain spot. Also, while the final objective is to get the orb or scarab to the bottom of the screen, the level ends successfully if either piece ends up at the bottom of any column. It isn't explicitly stated that this is acceptable, but once you discover out, levels suddenly become much easier.
Aside from the main mode, both games offer a Relax mode that doesn't exactly live up to its name. Here, you can play all of the levels you've completed, but you're doing so with the same limits and objectives as before. Unless you find it calming to try and best your own high score, the implications of the mode name are simply untrue.
In a nutshell, that is all that the games offer. There's no endless mode. There's no leaderboard for either local or online play. There's no multiplayer, either. All you have is a single-player game with a multitude of puzzles to play through. When both games were released separately, the asking price made this hard to swallow because there are other, better match-three games out there. That still remains the case now, though the package is a little more appealing since you're essentially doubling your puzzle count by throwing together the two games.
With all that said, Cradle of Athena is the stronger title due to a few additions. There are some levels where your objective isn't to collect items and guide orbs but to defeat locusts, invading hordes and mythical monsters. This is still done with the match-three formula; matching the required number of specific objects completes the level and opens up pieces that ultimately create a few sliding block puzzles. It would be a welcome addition if it weren't for the fact that the details necessary to solve the puzzles are hard to differentiate due to the low resolution of the pictures. It would be more enjoyable if it was more detailed, but as it stands, those specific puzzles are more difficult than they should be.
The sound is a bit off. The effects are fine in both games, but the score has a few issues, including a lack of variety when it comes to the musical pieces. In Egypt, the title screen music is rather loud, as are the screens between levels. During gameplay, however, the volume is reduced so much that you'll wonder if there's music playing at all. Cradle of Athena doesn't suffer from volume issues, but only half of the score feels like it's trying to evoke ancient Greek mythology. During gameplay, the music feels like it should be coming from a horror game — something you don't expect from a puzzle game at all.
There's not much to talk about from a graphics standpoint. The backgrounds look fine, and while it doesn't look like much work was done in animations, the boards and objects look decent. Aside from the complaint about the details in Cradle of Athena's sliding puzzles, the only other issue has to do with locked objects. Both the chains and locks do too good of a job in obstructing which object lies beneath them, and while you'll eventually be able to figure out which object needs to be matched, the initial glance can be frustrating.
Jewel Master Collection is really for the match-three puzzle enthusiast who has played every game of its type and still craves more. The game is also for people who simply enjoy having a large number of puzzles to solve in one place. For those puzzle veterans, the game is worth the money due to the sheer volume of content contained within. For those who haven't played a match-three puzzle game before, there are plenty of other games that do this formula better, some of which are cheaper and downloadable. Seek out those first and then come back to this if you still crave a match-three puzzle fix.
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