A Gem Of A Match-Three Game

by Jeff Cork on Feb 12, 2014 at 10:01 AM

As I’ve written about before, I spend a pretty good chunk of time playing tile-matching games. I’ve been a fan of the genre since I first played Yoshi’s Cookie on my SNES, and players who enjoy that style of game have more options than ever. A new game called Timeless Gems hit Facebook earlier this month, and it has both the charm and gameplay chops to bring in people for whom Candy Crush is starting to go stale.

The basic gem-matching structure is similar to what you’ve experienced since the days of Bejeweled. Players swap two items on the grid, and if the swap results in a match of three or more, the matched items disappear. You’re rewarded for pulling off larger matches and combos, which adds a necessary skill element beyond just blindly swiping around the screen.

Timeless Gems brings a fun spin to the genre by structuring the whole thing around a board game. In addition to matching colored gems, you also move characters around the game window’s border by matching dice-shaped blocks. As you destroy those blocks, your character hops the number of spaces dictated by the combined total of the dice, picking up coins along the way.

It’s all dressed up in a colorful storybook-themed wrapper. Players progress through individual levels to complete chapters. Once all the chapters in a book are completed, the next book unlocks. The first two books are based on "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "The Wizard of Oz," and more are coming soon. 

The stories are integrated into gameplay, or they are about as well as you can in a puzzle game. For example, some levels have special icons that fill up a bonus meter when destroyed. Once the meter is filled, a special minigame is triggered. You might need to find cogs for the March Hare’s watch or get signs for the Cheshire Cat by collecting icons. Or, you might have to do several tasks, like collecting enough pepper shakers in the matching game to cause acorns to drop on the board, which then have to be collected. Other levels have special win conditions, such as requiring Alice to make several laps around the board in a limited number of turns, or to meet a score requirement under the pressure of the clock. These modes add a nice dose of variety to the core game, and I’m curious to see how Soul and Vibe Interactive and Telos expand on these minigames in the months to come.

My biggest criticism about the game right now is entirely subjective. Everything’s bright and cheery, but Alice and Dorothy ultimately don't do much for me. If the game's familiar settings get casual players interested, however, I can't fault the designers for leaning in that direction. Someone has to pay the bills, after all. And even though I might not love the themes, the quality of the game is hard to ignore. The animations are smooth, and your performance is rewarded with visual flourishes and dazzling sound effects.

As with just about every free-to-play game in existence, you can enjoy the game for a while before bonking your skull against your first paywall. You can play through three chapters – 15 stages – before you’re asked to either pay $.99 or enlist the help of three Facebook friends to continue. There’s a fair bit of content to enjoy before you get to that point, including the additional challenge of meeting bonus objectives. Or, if you’re a competitive person, you can replay levels to ensure that your scores are on the top of your friends’ leaderboards. You can also spend in-game currency (or cash) to buy power-ups, but I haven't yet been tempted to do so.

The game is coming to iOS and Android devices soon, with Facebook synching. For people who primarily play these games on the iPad (like me), this is the best possible news. In the meantime, you can play it on Facebook for free – or until you hit that paywall. Hopefully, the game will gain a following like Candy Crush and others have, and rounding up three friends to progress without paying will become a trivial concern.