Journey in the Past
The Sleepless Star marks the fifth entry in the Jewel Quest series. This time, however, rather than go on another of Rupert Pack’s adventures, we instead roll back to the year 1901 to join his ancestor, Percy Pack.
Percy has been journeying west, seeking a legendary jewel known as the Sleepless Star. His travels lead him to an Algonquin village where he learns some bad news; it’s been stolen! With no time to waste, Percy and a local woman, named Yellow Feather, set off together to get the jewel back, and hopefully prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
If you were hoping to see where Rupert would go next, you might be disappointed. Try not to be, because this prequel is good and interesting enough on its own terms. More impressively is the way it unfolds. Cutscenes move the plot along, featuring a series of still pictures to showcase the action, and some voiced-over dialogue. The pictures are well-drawn and highly detailed, like what you would expect from a graphic novel, and though the voice acting sounds like it was phoned in, it’s in general inoffensive.
The cutscenes are fun to watch and follow, but it is a little odd how little to do with the gameplay they have; every action and plot point in the story is represented with yet another jewel board to complete, which feels a bit abstract. But it doesn’t really matter; the cutscenes are just another little reward you get for completing levels, which is good enough.
For a puzzle game, Jewel Quest: The Sleepless Star boasts some impressive production values. The gemstones you’ll be seeing a lot of are colorful and distinct, and they’re backed with some lovely scenic illustrations in the background. One interesting tidbit is that as you complete a level, you’ll notice comic bookish panels appear to the side of the board showcasing action progressing in the story.
For example, one early level features the heroes scaling a cliff. As you clear the board, pictures appear that display them climbing higher and higher. It’s nothing huge or groundbreaking, but little touches like this prove a lot of care went into Sleepless Star. These panels feature the same detailed artwork that went into the cutscenes, which is great, because as has been said before, the still pictures simply look wonderful.
If there’s one issue to find in Sleepless Star’s visuals, it’s that unlike most match 3 games on the market right now, there’s not much in the way of flashy effects as you clear the board. This is not a serious issue at all, and it certainly wouldn’t fit the context of the story, but if you enjoy watching those fiery explosions in the like of, say, Jewel Quest, you might be disappointed.
Equally impressive to the graphics is Sleepless Star’s music. It’s nothing short of beautiful, filled with soft, melodic chords. It suits the Native American setting of the game, and is the kind of thing you would want to listen to while solving some puzzles. Or just when you’re trying to relax. It works just as well on its own merits as it does as background music.
Not Your Everyday Match 3 Game
The Sleepless Star plays out very similarly to Bejeweled. You have a board filled with colorful gemstones, and it’s up to you to match at least three of them into a row by swapping the positions of two gems, destroying them and rearranging the board in the process. If you’ve played any previous Jewel Quest title, or any other match 3 game, this should not be anything out of the ordinary.
It’s when we get into the nitty-gritty where the differences start to surface. Rather than aim to reach a minimum score as is usual, your goal, in The Sleepless Star is to change the color of every square on the board to gold. You do this simply by matching gemstones on them. This puts a greater emphasis on strategy and spatial awareness rather than just the sharp eye for detail that these games usually encourage. It’s not enough to remove gems in rapid order, you need to figure which gems to get rid of to clear the level as efficiently as possible.
Sadly, unlike most games of match 3, there aren’t many special powers at your disposal. No bombs, no hyper cubes, no magical spells, nothing. Just regular swapping and matching.
There is, however, one new addition to the formula, both for Jewel Quest and match 3 games in general, that allows you to get special abilities. These come in the form of totems, of which have different effects, such as adding extra time onto the clock. It’s a nice addition to the formula, but the effects are too meager to make much of a difference or encourage you to develop a different style of play.
Different Boards, Different Rules
It’s not just the way boards are cleared that sets Jewel Quest: The Sleepless Star apart from the rest. It’s the way the boards are often designed and what rules they have. Unlike most match 3 games, where every board is a rectangle, this one has boards of various shapes and sizes. This affects where gems can and cannot appear, which means the swapping possibilities can get awfully difficult for some areas on the grid, and making things that much tougher.
But more than that are the different rules that apply to certain boards. For example, on “Climbing” boards, you’re tasked with turning every grid square on the board gold, but areas of the board, usually the higher ones, can’t be converted until you’ve dealt with the ones that are already available to you. Another type, called “Evasion,” where you have enemy jewels working their way up the board that have to be destroyed. These are only two examples of the mix, and all of them add another level of strategy and variety to the game.
A Rough Diamond
They can also make things harder. On top of the already tight time limit you’re usually under, Sleepless Star can be a surprisingly tough game. That may or may not be a good thing depending on how skilled a player you are. But sometimes, as is standard for the genre, luck also has a huge part to play; you can’t control what jewels will appear, after all. Don’t be surprised if you’ll have to retry a level several times. The standard hint system which highlights a pair of swappable gems is present, but due to the different way the game plays out, it’s not really too helpful.
Conclusion - An Impressive Match 3 Game
But that’s neither here nor there. At the end of the day, Jewel Quest: The Sleepless Star is a gem in and of itself. It adds a lot to the old and possibly tired match 3 formula, and wraps it in a cool and well-told story. With about 200 levels to complete, multiple ranks to obtain, and 16 totems to collect, you can be occupied for a long time. If you can handle a little challenge, then this title is strongly recommended!
Review by David Galvin
Dave Galvin is a freelance writer and avid gamer. Somehow, he managed to find a way to combine the two passions.
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