With the Wii and DS line of consoles Nintendo created a platform on which a large variety of titles that previously wouldn’t have had a boxed retail console release found a place to flourish. Casual gaming had made its way to consoles and the DS in particular found itself with an avalanche of simple games that ultimately were the same game. A very prominent genre were the ‘match-three’ style of puzzle games in which players need to switch adjacent tiles, usually in the form of coloured gems, in order to match at least three in a row or column and eliminate them from the board. There were simply huge amounts of these games on the DS in the form of the Jewel Quest, Bejeweled and Jewel Master series among many others, with some series even featuring spin-off series in addition to their own main-line entries.
One such spin off series is Jewel Master’s Cradle of Rome series. The original was released in 2008 for the DS and its particular unique selling point was that as you progressed through the game you constructed the city of Rome. The sequel tasks you with recreating the city of Rome and after a short scrolling prologue the game sets you on your way.
Cradle of Rome 2 plays pretty much exactly the same as its predecessor, and most other match-three games. The game screen is filled with tiles and the aim is to obliterate all the blue ones by switching and matching three or more identical tiles in a row. The higher the amount of tiles removed multiplies the score as well as inching your way towards completion. Certain tile sets give the player resources in order to build their cities whether it be wood, gold or food of which a certain amount will be required to progress through the game. There is a time limit in place but not destroying all the tiles in time doesn’t have any penalties so progressing through the game is merely an exercise in endurance rather than any skill.
The game quickly introduces new obstacles such as areas which are locked off by a particular tile which will need to be matched and removed in order to access the rest of the grid. The differing level set-ups do manage to keep things interesting in comparison to other titles that may simply have a basic square grid layout and rigidly stick with it. Power ups are also introduced as you progress such as bombs, lightning bolts and hammers, all of which can be used either if you’re stuck or just can’t be bothered grinding to take out the final tile of a particular level. Once you purchase a particular construction with your various accumulated resources there’s also a brief puzzle-piece mini game as the building is realised although thankfully you can just wait and skip doing it.
Generally speaking the game plays as you would expect as there are already so many titles that utilise this simple match-three game style, both in the multitude of previous Jewel Master titles, but also of the vast amount of other similar games like Jewel Quest, Bejeweled and countless other similar titles. Beyond the need to gather materials throughout levels in order to build the epochs of Rome, there’s nothing amazingly unique about the game, and the number at the end of the title of this particular game tells you this particular concept isn’t exactly original.
Although the game itself is functional with its tried-and-tested mechanics, the game doesn’t feel as satisfying as other similar titles perhaps in due to the overall presentation. The tiles that need matching are a great deal smaller and more detailed than the typical gem-based titles you may be familiar with. The simplicity and immediacy of these games are what for many make playing them such a time sink. Although the presentation somewhat justifies having to match specific tiles to gather that particular resource it doesn’t really add much to the game other than locking out future levels until the required amount of grinding has been done.
Beyond the main Adventure there are two other modes of play. Tourney mode allows you to replay levels you’ve already beaten in the campaign and Blitz Mode is a race against the clock to complete as many levels as possible in three different difficulty settings. There are also in-game achievements to unlock for fulfilling various criteria to keep players returning for more. Although the attempt to add incentive to replay the game is a nice thought, the fact the only real incentive is to break previous time records doesn’t really alter the way game is played anyway as the clock is always ticking even in Adventure mode.
With a version of this title already available for the original DS systems it seems rather odd for the game to get a 3DS release, especially so as there’s nothing to be gained from playing the title on the newer system. For users who may want to play the game with the 3D effect maxed out, most of the time players will be looking at the touch screen where the action actually occurs. Beyond the updated resolution and aspect ratio there aren’t any other real visual upgrades over the regular DS version. With Nintendo trying to gear its latest portable towards core gamers it’s somewhat odd that this game has made the jump to the new console, as a great deal of the more casual audience have taken to the free or incredibly cheap games available on the iOS, Android and social network platforms.
Cradle of Rome 2 is a fun game for a while, but the fact that the game is so generic and without anything particularly unique means it’s quite a difficult title to recommend for anyone who isn’t usually into this kind of puzzler. The dressing around the core gameplay feels redundant as the quest to build towns and gather resources simply gets in the way of enjoying the actual puzzle content. Like with many games of this sort, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been more appropriate to release the title as a download on the eShop as despite the slightly lowered price, this version of the game is still more expensive than both the DS and PC versions of the game. Overall the game is difficult to recommend to anyone who has played any similar game before or has access to other mobile devices that offer a greater variety of these experiences.