Jewel Quest 2, a Match-3 puzzle game from I-Play, sends you to the heart of the Dark Continent (a very un-PC name for Africa) in search of legendary treasure. We like the way the game weaves bits of adventure narrative between jewel-matching sessions. However, we also can’t ignore the fact that your ability to progress through the game depends more on dumb luck than skill. After being stopped in your tracks by bad fortune enough times, you may well find yourself not really caring to continue.
Each level in Jewel Quest 2 covers a page from a very British-sounding adventurer’s diary (Dr. Livingston, we presume?) as he travels from one archeological marvel to another, uncovering ancient wonders and pining for his lost love, Emma. These snippets of text are delightfully written and very imaginative. We only wish the story had been fleshed out even more.
True to the Match-3 genre, you match up three or more like-colored jewels in a row to make them disappear and turn the formerly occupied spaces gold. New items will then fall onto the board from the top of the screen. However, jewel-matching is only a means to the end of turning the entire board gold; in other words, you must make a jewel disappear from every space on the board at least once in order to beat the level. If you can’t manage this before time runs out, or before you run out of moves, you lose a life and have to start the level over again.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Jewel Quest 2′s gameplay mechanics. The game does a nice job of introducing new items and challenges as you go along. For instance, you can match three lion coins to earn the ability to eliminate a visible jewel from any space you choose; there are also stationary jewels that must be broken out of their rocky crusts before you can match them, hidden jewels that you must use trial and error to match, evil monkey figurines that turn spaces from gold back to white, and more.
The problem is that these gameplay elements seem poorly balanced. The distribution of jewels is random, so you will often run into situations where there are a handful of spaces on the board you simply can’t match, no matter what you do’”the necessary jewels just aren’t there. You can partially work around this problem through skillful manipulation of jewels and clever use of lion coins, but if your luck doesn’t hold up, you’re toast. It’s beyond irritating to barely lose a level eight times, and then suddenly get all the right jewels and breeze through on the ninth. You might as well be playing the slots.
Furthermore, Jewel Quest 2′s presentation is merely average, especially for a game at this price point. There’s little animation on the jewel board, and the backgrounds are static. Also, the background music and sound effects are boring, with the exception of the war whoop at the end of each level, and you can’t play your own music.
We weren’t wowed by Jewel Quest 2, and we can’t give it our full recommendation. If you liked the game on the PC, you’ll probably like the iPhone version too. If you’re just in the market for a Match-3 game, however, we think that there are better (and cheaper!) options available, like Trism.