If there's one thing you could say about Nintendo’s DS console it's that it certainly isn't short of puzzle titles. Over the years we’ve seen many good (and not so good) games that reside within that particular genre, and in Jewel Quest we have another to add to the ever-expanding ranks.
The first game in the Jewel Quest series was released on the PC in late 2004 and several sequels followed on various other platforms, but now an instalment has finally reached the DS. Despite competition from other games with a similar premise the developer hopes that its game does enough to make itself stand out from the crowd, but just how much fun is Jewel Quest Solitaire?
True to the game’s slogan – ‘Solitaire with a twist’ – the gameplay of Jewel Quest Solitaire is loosely based on the single player card game (specifically the ‘Tri-peaks’ variation of solitaire) but with several key differences. Fundamentally, each card does not have a traditional suit but instead the whole deck is jewel-themed and uses what appears to be sapphires, rubies, emeralds and diamonds as the replacement.
All of the gameplay in Jewel Quest Solitaire is carried out on the bottom screen of the DS. Put very simply, cards are touched with the stylus until all are cleared from the table. At the start of a typical game a random number of cards are dealt onto the table – usually around 30 to 35 but the number changes every match – with a small proportion of these upturned and the rest of the dealt cards face-down. The remaining cards (known as the stock pile) are stacked with a single one upturned to the side. Clearing cards is done by touching one of the face-up cards but the one that is chosen must be one card higher or lower than the upturned card. For example, if the single upturned card next to the stock pile is a 5 then only either a 4 or a 3 can be chosen. Providing either one of these cards is face-up on the table, choosing one will replace the 5 with the same process being repeated for this new card. If, however, a 4 or a 3 is not apparent then the stock pile to the left of the 5 must be tapped with the stylus, changing the 5 to a different card to try your luck another time. If all of this sounds confusing on paper (it sure is difficult to describe), don’t be too concerned since the game is very easy to play and the rules are a breeze to get used to once you actually get stuck in.
At this point you may be wondering where the titular jewels come into the game with more significance than acting as makeshift suits. The top screen of the DS houses the ‘jewel board’, which as the name suggests contains the jewels that are obtained during a card game. As jewels increase so does the bonus score that you receive at the end of the game and the jewels are collected as the score multiplier is increased. Score multipliers occur during different situations, rising as the number of cards cleared increases without needing to change the single upturned card and also when cards of the same suit as the previous one are cleared.
Jewel Quest Solitaire has just two game modes available to play. The first game type is called ‘Full Quest’ and is the story mode of the game, although referring to it as such is a bit of a stretch. This is because it’s practically identical to the second mode, which is referred to as simply ‘Just Cards’, apart from a largely unnecessary story that has been formed to give the game at least some kind of a ‘Quest’ feel. One of the few differences between the two modes is that with the Full Quest game type, during a match you earn both jewels and what are called ‘swaps’. At the end of a game, swaps allow you to switch the position of your little gems in the jewel board so that they form matching rows of 3+ jewels and in doing so turn gold in colour. Getting more matching rows through swaps increases your final score. Just Cards is the quick-play game type of the game, and after that there’s actually nothing to talk about in terms of game modes. To say the least, it’s seriously lacking in content and will undoubtedly leave you wanting for more.
Moving away from the gameplay and general premise, the presentation is fairly standard stuff. Although the story is a little superfluous and pretty pointless, it does give a slight distraction in the Full Quest mode. Aside from that, the music fits the game’s premise and theme but is far too repetitive and more variety should definitely have been included. The graphics are just as you’d expect, with fairly detailed game table variations. However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between cards as occasionally they appear rather fuzzy - a possible side-effect of downsizing the PC original into the smaller displays of the DS.
There’s no doubt that the base gameplay of the title is entertaining and it’s definitely a fun way to pass the time with addictiveness setting in quick if you’re a fan of this kind of puzzle game. Ultimately though, Jewel Quest Solitaire just doesn’t quite go far enough in representing good value for money. A lack of modes and gameplay variation holds the game back from being easier to recommend and we would have liked to see mid-puzzle saving opportunities and some kind of multiplayer aspect. However, fans of the series and solitaire enthusiasts will still find an enjoyable experience here.