Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Update to Jewel Quest 2

So, I've been playing a bit more Jewel Quest 2 on my flight back to Seattle. I must say, that although I'm still enjoying the core mechanic (gem swapping), there are a couple of system design and usability issues that are annoying me.

First: Usability

  • It's hard (especially in windowed mode) to see whether the background of a square is colored in or not. This makes it really hard to tell at the end game which are the last few squares that need solving. I live in constant fear that I'm going to be struggling to figure out which spot is still incomplete when time runs out. That kind of "challenge" is not fun. The fun challenge is knowing which spots you need to fill in and then racing against time to fill them.
  • I dislike the fact that I can't click-drag to swap a gem or to cue up another swap as I wait for a cascade to complete. Bejeweled Blitz (and I believe other variants of it) have this feature and it's one of those things that makes the game feel less polished in comparison to its competitors.

Next: Systems

  • I'm wondering why the cascades (when multiple columns and rows collapse) and > 3 gem matches are less exciting than in Bejeweled. I miss getting point multipliers when I have a large cascade and I miss getting special gems when I complete >3 gem matches. To me, this just reduces the depth of the game -- and makes completing larger cascades/matches less rewarding.
  • I also wonder why I need to be double penalized when I use a bunch of Specials but fail to complete the level in time. This results in losing a bunch of specials AND a life. Seems to me like it would be more fair to the player to return specials that were used if the game ends in failure. This is compounded by the fact that there is no obvious "grind" mode (you need to dig into the options menu to find it) and is rendered absurd by the fact that if I actually want to "game" the system, I can quit/Alt-F4 to exit the game completely and restart at no penalty (other than the time it takes to close and re-open the game) as long as I do it before the clock runs out. No loss of life or Specials. Restarting the level costs me a life (after the first minute or so of play).

I'm guessing that these design choices resulted from the desire to have a leaderboard (have players grind in the tournament section instead of during the single player mode) and a sense that progression-based games are only challenging and fun if there are dire consequences for running out of lives and having to restart from the beginning.

What this means for me (someone looking for mental relaxation and flow) is that I need to find another variant that lets me do more free play grinding. I don't mind being entered into leaderboard contests (like Bejeweled Blitz) and like games part of the progression is unlocking new content (like Puzzle Quest).

Of course, to be completely fair to the makers of Jewel Quest 2, their game came out in 2007 -- well before either of the other competitors I mention in this review. Game development is an iterative process and I look forward to new variants in the future.

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