Trust us: It’s never a good sign when you confuse a game for half a dozen others before you load it up. And certainly, new pattern-matching puzzler Treasures of the Ancient Cavern lives up to expectation in this regard, delivering predictable thrills in a beautifully-packaged, but ultimately largely forgettable attempt to build on the old match-three equation. Nonetheless, to be fair, we should also admit it proves an unexpectedly competent take on an oft-used motif (shifting tiles to group rows of similar objects) that’s worth tackling in short spurts.
Forget the jumbled storyline, a tired pastiche of fortune-hunting dreams and ancient mysticism. All you really need to know is that you’re on the hunt for eye-popping treasures, the likes of which would make any king (or gangster rapper) proud. But claiming the goods, and entrance to a mysterious cache, requires collecting ancient artifacts piece by piece, which you’ll do by stopping off at dozens of individual stages laid out across a nicely-rendered campaign map.
And each self-contained level – set atop exotic backdrops like roaring waterfalls, lush jungles and rainbow-crested mountains – must be cleared of colored tiles before a rapidly-dwindling timer runs out.
So how does the action work?
Essentially, every stage consists of a grid of squares occupied by ostentatious baubles ranging from jeweled crowns to huge emeralds and glistening, sapphire-topped scepters. The trick to winning all scenarios: Making matches atop every last colored section of the board (and thereby removing their shading), accomplished by dragging rows of items horizontally or vertically with a tug of your mouse.
Connect three or more identical treasures this way, and both they and any touching objects of like shape/color disappear into winking motes of light, with higher-situated objects falling down to fill in the gaps. Such caveats further create the possibility for you to land huge combos by causing falling pieces to spark off multiple matches in succession as well.
Energy is also harnessed during this process which helps to power special rune power-ups that you can buy and upgrade between levels using coins collected during play. These handy little extras let you swap several tiles, destroy whole sections of the board, eliminate a certain number of random items or even clear the display of obstacles with a single click.
If it all sounds a tad familiar, that’s because apart from the odd giant-sized item – which impede mobility, similar to other, more routine obstacles such as stones and frozen tiles – the formula’s already been done to death by countless predecessors. And as sharp as the title’s visual aesthetic, good-sized library of sound bites and admittedly lovely special effects prove, it’s hard to discount the fact that despite the regularly-timed addition of new challenges and bonuses, there’s little on-hand to excite the veteran keyboard jockey.
Granted, the creators pull out all the stops here, including filtering in new, more difficult board shapes; mixing in special power-ups that appear when you take out reams of items simultaneously; and tacking on optional tasks that involve making certain patterns or removing X number of specific tokens. But frankly, we couldn’t shake a lingering feeling of deja vu the whole time we played. Or, for that matter, find any true empathy for the outing, given the inexplicable presence of seemingly random elements like pagan idols, tile-roasting nukes, mana generators and psychic-powered extras which the poorly-localized story fails to adequately explain away.
All of which, naturally, isn’t to say that Treasures of Ancient Cavern is a bad game – quite the opposite, in fact. The trouble mostly being that despite a high degree of polish, it’s just another capable, but ultimately faceless spin around the same old track, repackaged with shiny graphics, occasional mindless mini-games and the promise of loading up on virtual loot.
As such, players who prefer their digital diversions a little more low-key or are simply seeking a relatively stress-free way to while away time after work won’t be displeased. (Especially considering how effortless the arsenal of power-ups afforded renders general progression.) But as for everybody else? Be prepared to simply shrug your shoulders, say “meh” and move on to the next, hopefully way more innovative coffee-break amusement…