Update: Developer MindJolt recently re-branded itself as Social Gaming Network. This post has been updated to reflect that change.
Of all the game types on Facebook, the “match-3″ puzzle genre is one of the most overcrowded, meaning that competitors need to do something special in order to make themselves stand out from the crowd. Jewels of the Amazon from SGN launched in January and is currently showing up prominently on Facebook’s “Newest” list on the social network’s Games page. It’s a seemingly competent example of this style of game, but is it worthy of further attention?
There are two main components to Jewels of the Amazon: a Quest mode and a Blitz tournament mode. Quest mode sees players working their way through a series of levels to follow a story revolving around the hunt for lost relics. Levels are completed by meeting various score targets to win stars; at least one star is required to progress to the next level, otherwise a life is lost. Blitz mode, meanwhile, is exactly what veterans of Bejeweled Blitz will expect: players are given a minute in which to score as many points as possible, and are then ranked on a weekly tournament leaderboard against other friends playing the game. Blitz mode does not require lives to play, but only allows certain rewards to be earned once per week.
Gameplay is fundamentally identical to PopCap’s Bejeweled and its numerous imitators. Players swap pairs of gems on a grid in order to match three or more in horizontal or vertical lines. Matching four or more at once produces special gems which may blow up a 3×3 area, destroy all gems in the same row and column or destroy all gems of the same color. In both modes, powerups may be purchased to make things easier — some cost Facebook Credits, while others cost the game’s soft currency, earned through play.
A slight twist on the conventional formula is provided by the fact that some Quest mode levels are irregularly-shaped rather than sticking to Bejeweled’s square arrangement. At the end of every Quest mode “world” there is another twist: rather than meeting a score target in a time limit, the player must drop several relic pieces down to the bottom of the level before a slightly-longer time limit expires. It’s a welcome change of pace, but even this mechanic has been seen in numerous other games.
The protagonist of the Quest mode story (and “hostess” of the whole game) is a blandly-designed but attractive cartoon redhead woman whom it’s easy to confuse with other bland-but-attractive female hostesses of other social games. In many ways, she’s a metaphor for the rest of the game — inoffensive and pleasant enough, but virtually indistinguishable from her rivals. Even the “relic hunting” story in which she plays the lead role has been used numerous times before. In short, the game simply doesn’t offer enough variety to maintain interest — other recent “match-3″ games such as King.com’s Candy Crush Saga, which we reviewed last week, mix up the formula every few levels to keep things fresh, but Jewels of the Amazon doesn’t do this enough.
There are a number of flaws in the game that mar the experience, too. The main one of these is that the difficulty curve is very inconsistent, with some levels requiring considerably more points than others in order to gain the 1-star minimum to progress. This isn’t a smooth gradation of difficulty, either — there are a series of difficulty spikes which impede progress and often require the expenditure of lives in order to proceed. While this provides an opportunity for the game to monetize through the sale of lives, it is a frustrating experience for the player.
The game’s tutorial is also very poorly paced. Rather than introducing the game’s simple mechanics in a brief series of screens that those already experienced in the genre can quickly skip past, the game is still explaining how various special gems work well into the game’s second “world.” Since the way these gems work is identical to more well-known titles such as Bejeweled, this slow pace of introduction is really not necessary for most players — particularly since even beginners will have already encountered most of them well before the tutorials pop up.
The game suffers from a few bugs, too. When tested, the game froze on several occasions — in one instance, just as a level was completed, requiring that it be beaten again upon reloading. At other times, the menu screens can become non-responsive or do not allow the player to dismiss pop-up windows.
Jewels of the Amazon has picked up 1.6 million monthly active users and 300,000 daily active users since its launch at the end of January. Both figures seem to have stabilized, with DAUs showing what looks to be the start of a slight downward trend since the end of March. In order for the game to see long-term success, it needs to differentiate itself from its numerous imitators — something which, at present, it simply isn’t doing.
A match-3 game that needs to offer more variety and fix its bugs if it wants to see long-term success.