In these risk-averse times, publishers are increasingly relying on sequels to existing IPs to ensure that they turn over a profit. The problem doesn’t stem so much from a dearth of creativity in the industry, but rather as consumers we have a horrible habit of sticking with what we know. Much like the video game companies, we too don’t want to risk our hard-earned cash on titles that may disappoint.
When a developer produces a sequel to an already established franchise, there’s an expectation that they will build upon the existing product and improve it where necessary. However, it would seem that Cerasus Media, the team behind Jewel Master: Cradle of Egypt 2, wasn't aware of this.
Releasing just six months after the last game in the same series, Cradle of Egypt 2 is, unsurprisingly, very similar to its predecessor. While Match-3 clones have flooded the market to a point where they’re almost indistinguishable from one another, it doesn't excuse the fact that the game’s developer has done almost nothing at all to rectify the shortcomings of the series’ previous entries. Moreover, the tiny amounts of supposed “improvements” that have been implemented add very little to the overall experience. The end result is a repackaged product that’s being sold as new.
The goal in Cradle of Egypt 2 is pretty straightforward. The player must match up three corresponding tiles or more to gather resources such as wood, gold and food. With these resources, players construct buildings that unlock more tiles, which typically earn more resources. To its credit, this format feels much more rewarding than a standard high score system; the city build aspect provides you with a good visual example of how all your hard work has paid off. It’s just a bit of a shame that this part of the game isn't more interactive.
Each of the game’s 100 stages features a unique board layout that can make swapping adjacent tiles rather difficult at times. To add to the challenge, each stage is timed and the player is tasked with destroying orange marble plaques that also appear on the board before they can progress to the next stage. Only by forming groups over the top of these plaques will the player be able to remove them.
However, clearing plaques can feel unnecessarily arduous thanks to the awkward layouts. Gaps in and around the board create bottlenecks where the player is dependent on the right tiles cascading down the board in order to clear plaques in these areas. This results in a slower paced gameplay experience compared to traditional Match-3 games, which is fine given the emphasis on resource gathering. Nevertheless, some stages can last far too long, as you’re often forced to wait for the game to give you the right tiles before you can move on.
To help counter the trickier plaques, the player has access to a wealth of power-ups, ranging from pick axes that break a single tile to explosive barrels that wipe a fairly large section from the board. More often than not, these prove to be crucial when it comes to clearing the more awkward plaques before the timer runs out. These are acquired in a similar fashion to collecting resources, although multiple matches must be performed in order to fully charge them.
While this provides another challenging aspect for the player to take into consideration, the power-up system is ultimately less useful than it could be, as only one type of power-up is accessible per level. Had there been the ability to use an array of power-ups on a single board, the overall pace of the game would have been greatly improved, and the player would have had more strategic options available to them.
In terms of presentation, Cradle of Egypt 2 falls short, featuring the same bland and uninspired look of earlier games. While advanced graphics are by no means necessary in a casual Match-3 puzzle game, the developers could have at least employed a few special effects to provide more visual interest. Furthermore, this could have also helped bring important things to the player’s attention. For example, when a power-up has been fully charged, the icon barely changes and this is where a
glowing or flashing effect would have more clearly informed the player of what is available to them.
In-between each stage, players are given a sliding tile puzzle to complete, in which they must usually recreate a set of building plans. However, it’s baffling as to why these sections exist; not only are they extremely repetitive and dull, but completing them grants no advantage to the player whatsoever. In fact, these can be skipped outright without incurring any penalties, and it curious as to why these were included in the first place.
Cradle of Egypt 2 isn’t a bad game because it doesn’t deliver what it sets out to. In fact, aside from a few gameplay niggles and its rather basic visual style, the title is quite playable, and fans of the Match-3 genre will likely find it absorbing. The problem with it is that it’s virtually a carbon copy of the games that precede it. It almost feels as if Cerasus Media simply took one of its older titles and painted over it with Pyramids and hieroglyphs. And unless you’ve played every other game in the series to death, there’s simply no justification for buying it, as you can more than likely pick up one of the previous games for half the price.
While familiarity is by no means a bad thing, it would have been nice if certain elements had been expanded upon, such as developing the construction aspect into a fully fleshed-out mini-game. Instead, Cradle of Egypt 2 simply offers more of the same, yet charges you full price in order to play it.