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Jewel Master: Cradle of Rome

For: DS


Product: Jewel Master: Cradle of Rome | Developer: cerasus.media | Publisher: Rising Star Games Limited | Format: DS | Genre: Puzzle, Simulation, Strategy | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Jewel Master: Cradle of Rome DS, thumbnail 1
Of all the things that could be matched, the match-three puzzler's obsession with jewels comes as no real surprise. Throughout history people have been obsessed with such shiny things. From the curse of the Koh-i-Noor, to the attempt to steal to Millennium diamond, and the unknown status of the Golden Jubilee diamond, lumps of coloured crystal just seem to generate an innate interest in the human psyche.

Jewel Master: Cradle of Rome doesn't really attempt to hook deeply into such feelings though. Instead, it has you collecting money and jewels alongside what might be considered the staples of any computer game society; food and building materials. These are collected by swapping adjacent symbols in a grid in order to make lines of three or more similar symbols. And as you'd expect, doing this makes the symbols disappear, stashing them in your virtual piggy bank/lumber yard/grain store as resources.

Between levels, you use such collected assets to buy various buildings in a virtual city, hence the grand-sounding Cradle of Rome part of the title. As well as building-up the visual representation of the city, these buildings will also provide some form of bonus in the match-three puzzler levels that make up the meat of this title.

It's unfortunate then that these bonuses are not particularly interesting. They all bring some new sort of symbol into play, whether a new resource or special block. The power gained by matching these special blocks will generally destroy a certain number of other symbols in the level, but you'll need to match a fair few before the power in question becomes available.

In order to collect your winnings in each level, you have to make a symbol match on certain coloured tiles in the game grid, causing them to return to the standard tan game grid colour. Predictably, later levels complicate things further by featuring more of these tiles, and ones that need more than one symbol-matching nudge before they'll return to their natural colour.

Each level has a time limit, which is displayed via a filled urn in the right hand side of the top screen that gradually empties. Run out of time without de-saturating all the tiles and you'll have to re-start the level or go back to your city empty-handed.

It's a core fault of Jewel Master that when this happens, you don't feel fairly bested. You feel cheated. Indeed, few games manage to evoke the critical pointlessness of gaming more than Jewel Master. Even when you make progress, you end up in the arms of another near identical experience; something that perhaps highlights the unimaginative derivativeness of many of these symbol-matching exercises.

Not all, of course. Meddling with this traditional form can have great results. Just look at Puzzle Quest, for example. However, here the attempt to build an interesting experience of city building on the back of match-three activity really doesn't work.

It's not that you're forever playing the same level ad infinitum – there are all sorts of differently-shaped game grids – but the random way Jewel Master throws them at you, with apparently no real sense of reason, negates the structure the game tries to put forward. The levels won't always feature the latest set of symbols you've got at your disposal, either.

So as you move through the game's epochs, each of which contains a handful of new buildings, the game goes from being monotonous to virtually philosophical in its dedication to an unflinching lack of difference. It literally starts to feel like you're crafting each building in your city out of roughly-hewn granite, block by block, symbol-match by symbol-match.

It's as if Jewel Master wants to tell us that no matter how hard we try in life, no matter how long we may toil, all our efforts will bring is more of the same, albeit with a slightly elevated sense of responsibility. Deep down, we'll always be matching symbols.
Jewel Master: Cradle of Rome
Reviewer photo
Andrew Williams | 2 February 2009
An uninteresting matching puzzler that's slotted into a structure big on monotony, Cradle of Rome demonstrates game concepts shouldn't be built in a day
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