Friday, April 27, 2012

More shiny gem-matching with Jewel Journey

Jewel Journey is a match-3 puzzle title for Facebook. The developer’s name is conspicuously absent from the game canvas and its fan page, making it hard to pin down exactly who created it. Judging from the fan page in question, however, it’s possible to see that the game has been available from around January 2012, and it is also currently showing up in the “Newest” list on Facebook’s Games page.

Jewel Journey is a competent but unremarkable example of the match-3 genre, bringing no real innovations to the table. It even goes so far as to use the clichéd premise of the player being an archaeologist, but does not force this with intrusive, badly-written dialog scenes. Instead, it serves as the justification for the titular “journey” through a series of stages, beginning in the Grand Canyon and later moving on to an army base, a frozen wasteland, the lost city of Atlantis and some Mayan ruins.

The basic gameplay is conventional match-3: by swapping pairs of gems and making groups of 3 of the same color either horizontally or vertically, the player scores points. Making a row of 4 or 5 or a L/T-shaped group produces special gems which explode, remove all of a particular color or clear an entire row and column when matched. The ultimate aim of each timed level is to cause one or more fragments of a “key” to fall down to the bottom of the screen. When this is accomplished, the level ends and the player receives a bonus according to how many gems they matched and how much time remained. Levels are distinct from one another according to their shape — some have holes in the middle into which gems may not be moves, others have awkward, irregular sides.

On some levels, special gems appear to hinder the player. Locked gems may not be moved by the player until they are unlocked by matching them with the appropriate color, but they are affected by gravity if matches are made beneath them. Frozen gems, meanwhile, are fixed solidly in place until they are matched. In order to help counter these obstacles, the player has a number of items which can be purchased using in-game currency. These tend to help with clearing areas of gems in several ways or shuffling the board. There are also four powerups only available via gifts from friends — these directly help with clearing locked and frozen gems and also provide the possibility to earn more points and time for a level.

Players are nagged to add friends after every single level. Later stages are also friend-gated, making it essential to recruit other players in order to continue progression. Players also have the opportunity to share news of achievements and high scores on their Timelines as a means of viral promotion, and each level has its own leaderboard.

The game’s currency is earned through play, mostly through a timer which rewards players with free coins for every 10 minutes of continuous play. There is no energy system in place and this counter continues even when simply sitting on the map screen, so there’s nothing to stop players from leaving the game running in the background and racking up the coins for free — the only input required is to click “Collect” on the popup that appears every ten minutes. This is quite a player-friendly move but may hurt the game’s monetization in the long run, especially as the developers also host regular coin giveaways at least once per day on the game’s fan page.

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