In the match-three market, it takes a strong, unique idea or mechanic to really stand out, and Jungle Quest, the latest puzzler from Friday’s Games, just might have it. Unfortunately, though, it’s hampered by some quality issues.
First, a disclaimer: Jungle Quest is actually a re-release of Curse of Montezuma. Same developer and publisher, same game, different name. If you’ve played Curse of Montezuma already, then there is absolutely NO REASON to download this carbon copy. If you haven’t, then read on:
In Jungle Quest, you play as Cathie Jones, who is investigating the spread of a mysterious virus. Your grandfather has been stricken by the virus, and he explains that your grandmother was researching the Fountain of Youth, which may hold the key to curing the virus. In the meantime, all sorts of other weird happenings are plaguing the rest of the world: the sakuras aren’t blossoming in Japan, the Philippines have frozen over. Could this all be related? As you search for the Fountain of Youth, you follow an archaeological trail of runes which are uncovered through – you guessed it – match-three puzzles.
The story is told through colorful comic book style panels. The characters and artwork are all very polished and well drawn. The music, while limited in tracks, never gets intrusive. The production values are all very high.
Jungle Quest is divided into episodes, each of which has a series of levels to complete. Often, Cathie has to help someone solve an ancient mystery, such as unlocking a large, somehow previously-undiscovered gate. While the plot isn’t going to win any major literary awards, it would have been nice to have some effort put into it. For example, Cathie meets up with an Indian tribe in Mexico where the leader explains that he went to school at the University of Mexico, then decided to return to his tribe. However, in the newspaper (which can be read between levels to see all the craziness happening in the world) it reads that Cathie made contact with a previously-undiscovered tribe.
However, people don’t generally play match-three games for their riveting plot. Gameplay is king. While on the surface Jungle Quest seems to fulfill a checklist of adventure match-three titles (power-ups, magic meter, timed levels), there’s a lot more to it. Some of the colored shapes have crystals embedded in them. You must match them up in chains to shatter them (or destroy them using an explosive power-up) to collect the crystals.
Making chains fills up a Mana meter, which grants you access to different spells. Mostly, they either destroy a shape (or area of the board) or swap two colors to help you make that last match. (If you can’t make any more matches, the game realizes this, wipes your board and refreshes with match possibilities.)
There are also other handicaps that come into play the further in you get. Some pieces have a barrier around them, and must be matched twice before breaking. Others are frozen in ice, which cannot be swapped. They can be thawed by being part of a chain or blown up by a spell. There are even metal pieces which cannot be destroyed by any means other than a spell.
At first, only about thirty crystals are required to complete a level. By the end of the fourth episode, you have to collect well over 80 crystals. Even with power-ups, it’s no mean feat. Additionally, you’re under the gun by means of a timer. Work too slowly, and you have to retry the level. The faster you go, the better the medal you are awarded at the end of the level, and the more coins you collect.
Coins can be spent between levels at the Jungle Shop, where you can buy various spells, bonuses and upgrades before each stage. Finally, there are also little achievements that can be earned for various milestones, like finishing a level in 1/12 the allotted time, or placing third and higher on the game’s leaderboard.
While the crystal-collecting gameplay is unique, it’s the level design that is amazing. Not only can you match three horizontally or vertically, some levels can have matches going around curves or diagonally. You really have to use lateral thinking in order to manipulate the colors to break the crystals at higher levels. Sometimes, though, matches around some curves that you think would work, don’t. It can be a touch frustrating at times, but overall, is a great new addition to the formula.
Sadly, the game suffers from multiple bugs that hamper it. The game froze and crashed on my not-wimpy computer, and the music would sometimes vanish. Another time the game wouldn’t let me quit, or overlaid the “Would you like to quit?” box over the playfield. But the worst bug happened when I created a large chain of matches, which created a storm of shapes. When I could see again, one shape would be floating over another, and the place where the shape should have been was blank. It still functioned when I clicked where the shape would normally be, but surely this is something that the testing department could have easily pick up on. This occurred repeatedly.
It is a shame that Jungle Quest is hampered by quality assurance issues. The game is well-presented. The match-three play is fresh, exciting, varied, deep and long. The characters are likable. I hope that there is a Jungle Quest 2, so Friday’s Games can bring us more of their creative gameplay, but squash those darn bugs first.