Call forth the kingdom’s jewelers! On the eve of the royal wedding, a fire-breathing dragon has attacked the castle and stolen the crown jewels! The king’s brave knights were able to wound the beast and drive it back to its lair, but in its flight the dragon dropped the stolen treasure, smashing the jewels and scattering them across the land. No royal couple can be wed without the crown jewels, so you have been chosen by the king to find the pieces and restore the jewelry so the prince and princess can have their fairytale ending.
Each of Jewel Charm’s 76 inlay puzzle levels begins with the outline of a piece of jewelry which has been divided up into numerous small, geometric shapes and colors, each color representing a particular gem or gold. A conveyor belt along the bottom of the screen carries in various broken pieces of gems, which must be placed into the pattern in order to reconstruct the jewelry. It’s basically an exercise in matching shapes and colors, with a few extra twists thrown in to make it interesting for people older than three.
Finished pieces must be worth a certain minimum value in order to successfully complete each level. Some gems are worth more than others, so obviously including as many high-value gems as possible will increase the value of each piece and boost the player’s score. Rare, special “crown jewels” which can only be placed into specific locations of some jewelry will occasionally pop up, along with photos of cute little kittens, dogs and horses, which also can only be used in certain spots.
A small number of excess pieces can be stored in a jewelry box for use later or to free up room on the conveyor belt once it fills up, and a “gem burster” can be used to dispose of unneeded pieces outright, although doing so will decrease the value of the final design. Special potions and tools that let players automatically fill empty spaces or carve pieces to fit into odd spots may be found in each level or purchased from a jewelry store that can be accessed between levels. The store will also buy certain high-value pieces from the jewelry box, although the proprietor seems suspiciously uninterested in most of them.
Designs get more intricate, and therefore more difficult, as levels advance. As the game progresses, players will occasionally be met by fellow jewelers or friendly citizens of the kingdom who invite them to join in one of two secondary games, either a memory challenge or a hunt for specific pieces hidden in a large pile of gems. A handful of villages located on the road to the castle hold jewelry-making “contests,” virtually identical to the game’s regular levels, which players must engage in as they pass through; successfully completing them nets extra gold and, more importantly, a move up in the hierarchy of royal jewelers.
Jewel Charm offers three modes of play: Relaxed, in which players work through each design at their leisure; Normal, which imposes time limits and introduces thieves, witches and even the dragon himself, all of whom will turn up now and then to cause trouble; and Intense, which ups the ante by reducing the time limits, increasing the power of enemies and setting higher value goals for each piece of jewelry.
And that’s pretty much the entire game from top to bottom. Jewel Charm features attractive hand-drawn backgrounds, pleasant music and gameplay that’s very easy to pick up, but there’s not much depth to it. The difficulty ramps up as the game advances, although it’s a very gentle curve, and a free-form jewelry design section gives serious fans the chance to create their own unique pieces, but as a game it’s very much a one-trick pony. It’s a good trick, but it’s hard to see this as something that many players would want to stick with for extended stretches.
In short bursts, however, it’s a lot of fun. It’s an overused cliche, but despite some early doubts the gameplay proved surprisingly addictive; instead of Solitaire or Freecell, I now find myself reaching for Jewel Charm when my hand is lying on the mouse and I have a few minutes to waste. This is a game that’s ideal for killing time while you’re stuck on hold or waiting for the microwave to go ding; it may not do much, but what it does, it does very well, and gamers looking for a quick diversion now and then should definitely give it a look.