Jewel Master: Cradle of Persia – Review

Title   Jewel Master: Cradle of Persia
Developer  Cerasus Media
Publisher  Rising Star Games
Platform  DS, PC, Mac
Genre  Puzzle
Release Date  9th March, 2012

Puzzle games are supposed to be something akin to putting your feet up and relaxing with a cup of Darjeeling and a chocolate digestive.  They’re supposed to be time filling, travel or sofa-slobbing companions, offering ‘just one more go’ gameplay and the chance to unwind when the day has ridden you hard and put you away wet.  Some games, however, have other ideas and beneath their colourful, jewelicious façade lurks a sadistic streak that is, somehow, painfully alluring.  Jewel Master: Cradle of Persia is one such title.  Hot out of the hands of Cerasus Media, the latest title in the popular Jewel Master series sees the franchise shift its focus once again, this time bringing its familiar match three puzzling to the warm Persian climes.

At its core, not a great deal has changed from the other titles in the series, but this is no bad thing when the game does what it does so well.  Setting off in what is – rather ambitiously – known as ‘Adventure Mode’ (one of several on offer), the game takes the player through a series of epochs, each comprising a number of increasingly fiendish puzzle screens.  The aim is to clear the red marbled tiles by the time the clock water-jug runs drier than a granny’s mouth at a Ritz cracker convention; this is achieved by swapping pairs of ever-replenishing tiles around in order to match three or more identical symbols.  Simple?  Well, let Cradle of Persia spit in your arrogant little eye.

The game swiftly throws a tool-chest into the works by introducing, among other things, chained tiles.  These are immovable and need to be matched, in order to unlock and bring them into play.  Later levels see parts of the screen suspiciously empty, essentially plugged by an ice tablet tile – these, let’s not be delicate, are bastards.  They require a chain to be made in a column above them in order for you to smash through.  Seeing the released tiles tumble down and fill the, once empty, void beneath may be heart-warming, but it is hard to pull off and there are suddenly a whole lot more red tiles to be offed… and the clock is ticking.

You may well have guessed that the difficulty level pops up and smacks you in the face at a surprisingly early stage, and while you are led through new inclusions and elements, the help is of little comfort when the game sits smugly back on its haunches and sniggers at your pathetic efforts to master it.  Knowledge is one thing, applying it is something else.

To help assuage your apoplexy somewhat, Cerasus Media have introduced a number of bonuses.  These are meted out slowly as the game progresses and, once unlocked, they can be charged up ready for use.  They range from bombs to clear single tiles, a magic wand (not the vibrating kind, sadly) with which to zap nine tiles into oblivion, and an hourglass to grant extra time, to name but a few.  Each varies in usefulness and will take a different amount of time to charge, depending on their power.

This is where a problem arose.  As the game’s difficulty ramped up, I found myself focussing more on frantically matching the bonus tiles in an attempt to charge them and save myself before the time ran out, and ignoring the resources – rendering the game’s other key selling point somewhat redundant at times.

You see, not content with having you swap and endlessly destroy tiles, you are also tasked with growing a city, constructing buildings by gathering resources and gold, as depicted on the tiles you are tackling.  Sadly this sounds more exciting than it actually is, and the game provides little depth on this front.  Once you have earned enough gold or gathered the resources to  buy a new building, it gets thrown up, sometimes granting a bonus such as increasing how much gold each coin tile nets you, but that’s it.  Like a Hollywood western town, there is nothing behind the sprawling façade and as pretty as these elements are, they don’t offer any new gameplay, other than a driving motivation to continue.

Graphically, the game delivers, boasting a vibrant style that makes it a genuine pleasure to play.  The tiles are well depicted and pretty, while the town scenes and other screens are all clear, colourful, and well realised. The only criticism I had with the visuals was that the images on the (thankfully skippable) mini-games, which pop up when purchasing a new building, were faint and washed out.  It made them hard to discern, and ultimately the games were pretty missable.  The sound was as jaunty as expected, tailored to fit the theme of the game, but was otherwise not noteworthy, other than it (thankfully) didn’t grate, even after extensive play time.

Cradle of Persia has everything that a good puzzler should have – clear, vibrant visuals, a solid theme, and absorbing gameplay that makes it hard to put down.  This one saw me running my DS battery into the ground in the space of one marathon session which, for me, is testament to how absorbing the gameplay was.

  • Colourful visuals
  • Absorbing gameplay
  • Bonuses are a smart (and welcome) gameplay addition
  • Good themeing
  • A time-sink
  • Inclusion of achievements was a good touch
  • The mechanics of the bonuses could have been made a little clearer
  • Difficulty jumps up and smacks you in the face very early on
  • City building elements are, essentially, shallow

While the city building elements may have been little more than motivational window dressing, the core match three gameplay is thoroughly absorbing, blending some interesting extras into the mix to create a time-swallowing puzzle title that is as pretty as it is tricky. While the graphics are colourful and charming, the game ultimately doesn’t differ a great deal from it series brethren – no bad thing – so it all comes down to your choice in historical backdrops: Rome, Egypt, or Persia. Regardless of the minor issues I had, Jewel Master: Cradle of Persia is an absorbing, if punishing, title that will keep you coming back for more.

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  1. Stu Stu says:

    If this comes to Xbox Live then I’ll be grabbing this, other than Bejewelled 3 there hasn’t been a decent puzzler since Chime which has left a rather oddly shaped void inside that only a decent puzzler can fill.

  2. Edward Edward says:

    Sounds like a bit of fun, but these sort of puzzle games aren’t my thing. After Meteos, I have all the puzzling goodness on the go I’d need out of a DS, so I may give this a miss. Also because I purchased the DS Golden Sun and it’s taking all my handheld time for itself…

  3. Lorna Lorna says:

    Basically it is a great game, but not much different from the others in the series. For me, the biggest choice is whether you prefer Egypt, Persia, or Rome. I agree with Stu that it would make a lovely XBLA title, and I’m surprised that it hasn’t made it out on that platform yet.

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