A few years ago, MumboJumbo published the Hot Lava-developed 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, a very average Bejeweled clone. Since then, our standards for DS puzzle fare have gotten a little bit higher, and MumboJumbo has updated its previous release to hopefully meet these standards. Enter 7 Wonders II.
The formula remains the same: switch adjacent symbols to make matches of three or more, barring the ability to swap without forming a combination. With bigger combinations, you get power-ups that clear larger areas; those available here differ from the original, but not drastically. The swapping symbols are runes placed above tiles – destroy the rune and you eliminate the tile, and it's your job to make sure that each area is tile-free. The runes will keep falling, though, even onto cleared spaces. The framework is based around building the seven ancient wonders of the world, so your tiles form bricks that ride a conveyer belt up to workers on the top screen, and after a certain point in each level a capstone will appear that you've got to help descend to the bottom. It's all timed as well, which adds a distinct challenge to the later levels.
The same problem with the first game remains here: focusing on clearing certain tiles on your quest to eliminate them all, instead of on racking up points, just makes things feel out of your control much of the time. It can be frustrating when the computer won't drop the correct tiles to the correct spot, and there's not much you can do about it. This flaw can go a long way, but on the whole, symbol swapping is as much fun as it's ever been. Additionally, clever level designs, especially later on, can make for some truly challenging games as sequestered-off spots are inaccessible to power-ups or simple strategising. It's a blend of skill and luck, and when it's weighted in the right direction, it can be very entertaining.
One of the additions to this sequel is that of fresh new power-ups. Before, when you achieved a certain point level, you would earn a single bomb-like weapon. Here, you gradually access an entire arsenal, but unfortunately many of the weapons are extremely limited or confusing in use, and you'll probably find yourself sticking to the same one or two. On top of this, the developers have added a slowly recharging shuffle button, which can add a lot to an otherwise stagnant game.
There are now collectible map pieces that unlock bonus stages, forcing you to clear an area in a number of moves. These can be a lot of fun, but overall they're a mixed bag and a great many of them will barely give you pause. In addition, after each stage, you select on a grid which spot on the wonder that you want workers to build, and can unlock hidden power-ups in the process, but this diversion mostly gets in the way and adds an unnecessary extra step.
There are still plenty of levels and two unlockable higher difficulty settings, and you can read bits of history about each wonder, but Rune Quest mode is now absent – though it didn't add much in the first place. There's a small leaderboard as well, but only for those who complete all of story mode.
Mostly, this sequel improves the presentation. The graphics, illustrations, colour schemes, animations and music are all crisper, more detailed and generally of higher quality. The newly designed workers still adorably strike when you aren't doing much, and no longer do they make weird grunting sounds. Unfortunately, the puzzle area itself looks worse; though the runes might be more detailed than before, they certainly don't stand out as well, and combined with the muddy, brown colour scheme of the tiles, it's all quite boring visually.
7 Wonders II is an aesthetic improvement over the original with a few added complexities that don't make much of a difference overall. The fault of this title is the same as that of its predecessor: focusing on certain spots to clear in a Bejeweled- style game leaves too much up to chance. Still, when it works, it's a lot of fun, even though altogether it doesn't rise above the status of decent, generic casual clone. As with the original, when the copied formula is one of the most entertaining and addictive in recent times, lack of originality isn't the worst crime in the world.