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Once upon a time there was Minesweeper. And, for that matter, any number of other incredibly simple but terrifyingly addictive mini-games that came free with your PC. Whilst trawling through new releases on different consoles I often wonder why it is that the improvements in memory and technology sometimes make games duller, not better. If, like me, you hanker for something simple, playable and instantly addictive, Jewel Quest Solitaire is the game for you.
The solitaire element of the game is embedded within an Indiana-Jones lite story, complete with some sweet music and sound effects. For anyone who is new to solitaire, an explanation is certainly worthwhile: several piles of cards are dealt and the top card in each pile revealed. The remainder of the pack is returned to you, the player, and the top card turned over. Your aim is to get rid of all the cards from the piles by placing them, one at a time, on the upturned card in front of you. You can only lay one value above or below the upturned card and if you can't continue a run you can turn over another card from the deck until you win, or get stuck and run out of cards.
From an educational point of view, your son/daughter won't become an arithmetic genius by playing it frequently. However it is definitely worth mentioning that the game encourages lateral thinking.
That's all simple enough, but Jewel Quest ups the ante with an extra reward for each solitaire you complete. Instead of suits, the cards are ordered into sets of jewels and playing runs of the same jewel-suit in the solitaire on the lower screen gives you points in the form of mini jewels that fall into a patterned board on the top screen. Runs of three or more jewels turn the spaces on the board gold. If you complete your solitaire you have a number of swaps in which to re-order jewels adjacent to each other on the board, create runs of three or more jewels and turn all the spaces gold. Bonuses are awarded for perfect finishes (all spaces gold), unused swaps and so on.
It is hard to articulate in words how addictive this game is. Some readers may understand if I say that it has superseded DS Scrabble as my bedtime game. I am going to quite ridiculous lengths to make sure I get my evening fix. There is no plug near our bed, so when the DS ran out of juice I had to get the lawnmower extension lead up to our room so that I could charge and play at the same time. The rest of the family thought that this was hilarious. The thing is, they're hypocrites because they're just as hooked as I am. My wife even played over a new episode of CSI. And she has the nerve to laugh at me.
From an educational point of view, your son/daughter won't become an arithmetic genius by playing it frequently. However it is definitely worth mentioning that the game encourages lateral thinking: players will quickly learn that there's little to be gained from getting rid of single upturned cards when there's a hefty pile of unseen cards still to be dealt with. Younger players will subconsciously learn, through trial and error, that there is more than one way to skin a cat. The ‘quest' is more a collection of bizarre little anecdotes than a coherent story but the solitaire cards are dealt out in the form of spiders, temples, vehicles and other aesthetically pleasing items from the story, each with its own crafty little pitfalls.
Jewel Quest sits snugly within a faux 1920s world of continental adventure to the point where the music accompanying the dealing of the cards actually sounds ominous. The new twists, including the various wild card combinations, all serve as hooks to draw you in and, despite their apparent similarity, the puzzles become no less playable even after a long stint of game play. You can pick it up for five minutes or five hours. There are no time constraints and no irritating backtracking or repetition. Designers are always looking for the Holy Grail that is the perfect marriage of comfortable dependability and fiendish addictiveness. For me, at least, Jewel Quest has got it right on the nail.
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