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Jewel Quest: Expeditions

Leaping into the handheld market, Mystic Games and iWin are offering Nintendo DS owners a chance to play another rendition of their popular puzzler, Jewel Quest. Jewel Quest: Expeditions incorporates an Indiana Jones style theme into familiar jewel-flipping gameplay. The lead character is a treasure seeking, fedora wearing rogue searching for vast wealth and his lost love. While the presentation is an interesting, mid-level diversion, the text-based narrative isn't cinematic or captivating. Also, the text types out painstakingly slow while the player stares at the static backgrounds. Fortunately, the player can skip forward to the next level and avoid the cliché-laden story.

Each round is designed around racing against the clock to cover the board with gold plating. The gold is uncovered by flipping jewels around to create combinations of 3 or more in a row or column. If you complete the board before the time runs out, a point bonus will be awarded. As the points rack up, an extra life is awarded every 50,000 points. Adversely, if a board isn't completed before the time runs out, a life will be taken. The game will periodically offer visual hints if the stylus hasn’t touched the screen recently.

After completion of the first level of difficulty, the challenge ramps up greatly with locked board pieces partially covered in stone. The pieces can be unlocked by creating the same row/column combinations. This can be tough if the piece required to unlock a particular square won't fall into place. Additionally, some locked pieces are completely covered in stone and require the “guess and check” method to break them open.

After the player starts racking up the points, gold coins will gradually begin to fall. If three gold coins are joined together, the player will be awarded a large point bonus and a special move option. Selecting a specific square with the stylus and clicking the left bumper triggers the special move. This allows the player to eliminate a square or bust open a pesky stone-covered jewel. It comes in quite handy toward the end of the game, especially squares at the bottom of the board.

This type of puzzler lends itself nicely to the touch-screen design of the Nintendo DS. The player has a greater ease of movement with the stylus and can quickly jump from one side of the board to the other. In fact, nearly all the functions can be performed with the stylus control, although furiously hitting the ‘A’ button during the conversation scenes is helpful.

Jewel Quest: Expeditions also comes with multiplayer over wi-fi download play. With only one game cartridge, two players can complete head to head in three types of match play. In the first mode, players can compete for the highest point total. This doesn’t necessarily mean the fastest player wins the game, but rather who has most inventive combination of jewels. The second mode is a speed race to fill the entire board with gold plates. The final mode tosses a few completely stone-covered jewels on the board and cranks up a guessing game. The player that uncovers the jewels inside the stone pieces first is the winner.

The visual quality of the title is above average, particularly the bright colorful aesthetic. The static background images match the archeology theme and blend with the game board. The top screen is slightly animated during the puzzles and offers a bit of realism to the archeological theme. The jewels are easily discernable from each other with color and design. Also, the motion animation for switching or falling jewels is absolutely fluid. Overall, this is the sharpest mobile version of Jewel Quest that’s been released in years.

The background music is fits into the adventure design of the title. A predominant theme of tribal beats and jungle sounds delightfully enhance the soundtrack. In addition, the amount of musical variation between each game board is surprisingly high for a puzzler. Beyond the background jungle jingles, the sound effects match the rest of the auditory experience. Everything from the ticking away of the time clock to the chime of a jewel-flipping hint is appropriately balanced against the musical tracks.

While the single player game is moderately entertaining and quite challenging, the repetition in the late stages of the game is a bit much. Thankfully, the multiplayer wi-fi is an excellent diversion when the single player game grows stale. The pricing for this version of Jewel Quest is on par with the PC version, but the advantages on the DS are much greater. It's an enjoyable arcade puzzler with a robust multiplayer, sure to delight the teeming masses of Nintendo DS owners.