For over a decade now, match-3 games have been a staple of the casual gaming market. Piles upon piles of internet gamers have had at least a little bit of experience with the genre, whether it came from sitting at a computer desk years ago and playing Diamond Mine on Yahoo Games, trying to beat a friend’s score on Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, or sitting down for a round of one of the hundreds of other match-3s on the market. I’ve had plenty of experience with these games myself, having been disappointed by enough generic games that I was slightly suspicious of Jewel Master: Cradle of Athena, the latest DS entry in the genre from Storm City Games. However, although the game doesn’t break any new ground or excel in any given area, it is fairly enjoyable.
If you’ve played any match-3 game in the past, you know exactly what to expect from Jewel Master: Cradle of Athena in terms of gameplay. You’re presented with a board full of shapes on tiles, and by switching the positions of two of these tiles, you must form rows of three or more identical shapes to make them disappear. If that’s not quite mind-blowing enough for you, you can also set up combos, in which the row of shapes you’ve eliminated moves others, causing them to also form rows of three or more identical shapes. In regards to the game’s basic functionality, Jewel Master: Cradle of Athena falls a bit behind other match-3s on the market, since it has no hint button to point you towards matches if you get hopelessly stuck and doesn’t actually tell you when you’ve lost a level, forcing you to either look desperately for a match that isn’t there until time runs out or get annoyed and restart the level. These sound like small things to be complaining about, and they are, but the fact that they aren’t present adds unnecessary frustration.
Because there have been an unreasonable amount of match-3 games put on the market in recent years, many of them have some sort of gimmick in an attempt to set themselves apart from the others, and Jewel Master: Cradle of Athena is not an exception. In this game, when you’re matching tiles, you are also, apparently, building an ancient Greek civilization. Though I can’t say that I’ve ever seen three pictures of grapes and thought that, if I lined them up, it would be my first step towards building a fleet of ships, it isn’t totally unreasonable as far as these things go. The implementation of this is a bit lacking, however, since in order to build the pieces of your brilliant new world, all you have to do is match a lot of things within the normal levels and hit the “Buy” button under what you’d like when you’re done. Certain levels also have you defending your fledgling city from threats such as locusts and Cyclops by clearing a set amount of the tiles representing this problem within a time limit, but they don’t change the basic gameplay enough to do anything but be filler levels as you wait to collect more city-building resources.
The gameplay in Jewel Master: Cradle of Athena is basically functional, providing a relatively enjoyable game without too many major problems or doing anything new. In a thrilling twist, the same thing can be said for the game’s presentation. The graphics and music make it clear that the game is set in ancient Greece, and do so without making it difficult to see what you’re doing or causing any hemorrhaging of the eardrums. Rather than animating the tiles as new ones enter the board, however, the developers chose to just quickly pop them from one square to the next, making for a strange graphical effect. It also gets a little boring to hear the same music over and over again, though there’s nothing distinctly unpleasant about either the songs or the sound effects.
Jewel Master: Cradle of Athena’s best trait may be the fact that it’s a fairly long game. The 100 levels present take quite a while to play through, especially if you plan to play it in short sessions. The inclusion of a “relax mode,” which removes all non-tile matching goals from the game, is also nice, even if it is a bit boring. Still, when there are some really good match-3 games available for the DS at the same price or cheaper, such as Jewel Quest Trio and Bejeweled Twist, it’s difficult to recommend Jewel Master: Cradle of Athena in any capacity. If you’ve finished some of the other, better, match-3s available and are dying to spend 20 dollars on yet another one, there’s nothing bad enough about Jewel Master: Cradle of Athena to warrant a wild warning against playing it. Most gamers, however, would be better served by looking for one of the more unique and well-made titles on the market.