With summer finally upon us, and our resident middle-aged player, Sue, finally finishing her last point and click adventure, she came to us with a question, with the journey for her upcoming holiday obviously weighing heavily on her mind. "Have you got any more games I might like on the DS?" As if by magic, the very next day, Jewel Legends: Tree of Life was set for release - and if, like Sue, you too are a fan of match three games, then Jewel Legends could be right up your street, too.
In something of a confusing trend, this is actually the fourth game in the Jewel [something] series, and the second time the game's suffered a name change on these shores. Starting out as Jewel Master, for Cradle of Rome and Cradle of Egypt, before becoming Jewel Link Chronicles for Cradle of Athena, the game now goes by the moniker Jewel Legends: Tree of Life. But luckily, not that much else is different.
If you've ever played any of the Jewel Link/Legend/Master games before, you'll likely be eerily familiar with what's here. Having seemingly run out of historical civilisations to recreate, Jewel Master: Tree of Life is instead set in a fantasy world, where a group of weird looking fairies, known as the Hods, have run into a bit of trouble, as their little fairy village, around the mystical Tree of Life has been destroyed. Using your match three skills, it's up to you to switch adjacent icons, creating groups of three or more as you go about gathering resources, and playing through one of over 100 levels on offer to help rebuild the tree of life.
Each level has three types of resource available for you to collect, which you can do by making groups of the relevant icons. Match groups of four, five, or more, and you'll gain a hefty multiplier depending on how large the group is, which is great for boosting your stock of a certain resource. The random logs, pots, shells, and leaves you collect aren't actually used for anything, though - they simply serve as a requirement for finishing the level. In order to complete a level, you'll need to meet two goals - collect enough of each resource to push the measurement past the line in the vial, and clear all of the blue tiles on the grid, by making matches above them, all before the strict time limit runs out. To make your job that little bit harder, you'll be faced with thick, light blue tiles, which require you to make multiple matches if you're looking to clear them, tiles that are wrapped in ivy, and therefore can't be moved until they're involved in a combo, and random purple squares, which form chokepoints in the level, and prevent icons from flowing into the bottom, until you've made a match of three leading up to it.
It's all a bit complex to explain but, luckily, as these games usually are, everything's pretty straightforward once you actually dig in and start playing. If you've played a match three game before, you'll be away here - although the difficulty level is a bit on the hard side. With an all-too harsh time limit constantly ticking down, collecting the amount of resources you need, and clearing the blue tiles before the timer ticks down is often a bit too hard - and seemingly the game knows it, as it offers you the chance to tick a box for an extra five minutes of time when you restart the level. Which kind of begs the question - why not just make the time limits challenging, but not ludicrously hard in the first place? We'd rather a tough challenge, than a nigh on impossible one that means we need to use a get-out clause to complete it.
As you progress through the level, you'll also be able to collect gems, which can be used to fill up your power-up bar. Make matches using the gems, and you'll fill the crystals on the right hand side of the screen, which can then be spent on power-ups, each of which use a different number of crystal's worth of energy. Easily the most valuable of these is the clock power-up, which partially refills the timer bar, while others shuffle tiles, or destroy various arrangements.
The game's split up into ten sections that are ten levels long each. Choosing the building you want to construct from the map, you'll then get to play through ten levels collecting the various resources, before finishing up with a bonus level, which sees you still matching three, but this time, extra icons drop in from the top of the screen, giving you a strange mix of Tetris and match three fun. It's weird, but it works.
Adding a bit of replayability to the game is the Relax mode, pinched practically from Bejeweled, which simply lets you match three without a time limit, and the much appreciated achievements, which set you 19 challenges to complete, ranging from finishing a level in the last 10 seconds, to the slightly obsessive "Play for three hours straight". Knowing how addictive games like this are, we can see people getting that the first time they play it.
As far as downsides go, these are really few and far between. If you've played any of the Jewel Link/Master series before, you'll be impressed by the extra production values that have gone into this one (the menu, particularly, seems rather swish for a match three game), and if you haven't, there's plenty of tutorials to help ease you in - even if they could have been worded a little bit better. One of the bigger problems the game suffers from is that some of the levels are strangely designed, with gaps in between the game board, forming natural chokepoints around the level. The problem is, all this ends up doing is making it incredibly hard to form matches of three. As you can't form matches over a gap, the space you're left to play with is severely restricted, which often results in there being no more matches to make, forcing the game to clear some icons for you.
That said, with the game currently being available for a bargain price, if you, like our very own Sue, are looking for a match three game to tide you over a long journey, or help you relax by the pool, you can do far worse than Jewel Legends. The fact that I've had to pry it out of Sue's DS while she wasn't looking in order to get chance to play it and write the review, speaks volumes. Currently available for a bargain price of just £13.75 from Play.com, at the time of writing, this is well worth a flutter.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS