There are so many Match-3 puzzle games on the Nintendo DS nowadays that you could very easily trip over them, and trying to distinguish what version is the best is tricky to say the least, given how the majority are almost identical. Publisher Avanquest UK has once again teamed up with developer cerasus.media for Jewel Link Chronicles: Legend of Athena in the hope of delivering something rather special.
Time and time again players are faced with having to clear three or more tiles of the same colour, but why? What keeps us churning through level after level of multi-coloured tiles, matching three of a kind and persevering until the final credits roll? Sometimes there is no particular purpose, whilst other games will provide a key goal. Legend of Athena goes down the latter route, encouraging the completion stages repeatedly in order to help construct monumental buildings, landmarks and ultimately follow the tracks of Hercules in recreating the glorious Ancient Greek world at the foot of the Acropolis. Food, building resources, gold, jewels and even magical artefacts are all collected along the way as a means to ‘buying’ the various structures available, such as the Pergamon Altar and Theatre of Dionysus. Not all at once, however, and also not without having to tackle certain dangers associated with ancient mythology…
Interestingly, rather than all of the edifices being up for grabs right from the start, throughout the puzzle adventure there is the chance to gain construction plans, albeit jumbled up ones that need to be pieced together by swapping pieces around. For those not keen on slide-style puzzles, though, there is the option to skip them without a penalty being imposed - yet anyone looking for a little aside from the main action will find the small time-killer a pleasant addition.
The core mechanic revolves around switching adjacent panels either horizontally or vertically in order to match up the coloured symbols upon them, with the primary aim being to successfully clear each board before the time runs out. When colours are matched, they disappear momentarily before being replaced by even more. The act of clearing them is not fruitless, though, since panels containing coloured symbols start off as blue when a stage commences, yet change colour when a match has been made. Consequently, the player must make sure that matches are made across the entire playing field to remove all of the blue shaded squares, which then leads to a special item, the Orb of Tyche, appearing that must be allowed to reach the bottom of the playing area by clearing a path by matching colours quickly and letting it fall downwards.
Everything requires a modicum of strategy, as opposed to mindless colour-clearing, with specific objectives being present as well, such as having to clear more of a certain tile type in order to gain building resources and money, or even matching three or more minotaur heads to defeat the similarly named beast before it destroys the Greek village, as well as clearing as many sword blocks as possible to prevent bandits stealing your riches. Additionally, bonus items can be collected at times to help with the process, like one that clears random tiles from around a board, or a bomb to obliterate a small radius. The variety in actual board layout is of considerable note since it helps prevent Legend of Athena from becoming tiresome too quickly. There are the bog-standard simple stages, those where tiles are covered in chains that cannot be removed without clearing other surrounding tiles first, and some where special flaming arrows must be triggered by removing adjacent coloured items to trigger their flight and obliterating whole rows at once.
Visually, on the whole Jewel Link Chronicles: Legend of Athena looks very impressive, with some lovely artwork for the buildings and structures crafted post-puzzle time. However, on the actual puzzle side itself, there are certain icons that look far too similar in nature and can definitely cause pain to the eyes and a large amount of confusion and frustration when trying to beat the clock on tougher stages. Whether or not this was purposefully designed into the end product does not matter, since either way it is to the detriment of the overall experience. Games of this ilk are meant to be honestly challenging, not tricking the player to the point where tension levels grow increasingly high for the wrong reasons. Legend of Athena is a thoroughly enjoyable experience all round, yet unfortunately this small aspect drags it down from being a truly spectacular entry into the Match-3 world.
In total there are one hundred Match-3 levels to work through, spread out over the twenty different structures that must be erected along the way with the wisdom of the goddess Athena by your side guiding the resurrection of the enchanting Greek metropolis. With ludicrously tight time constraints further into the game, the confusing moments with similar looking tiles, and the amazingly annoying repetitive in-game music, what is mainly a great game at heart loses some of its flare. Whilst above the majority of its genre stable-mates, Jewel Link Chronicles: Legend of Athena does not quite reach the top of the tree.
Jewel Link Chronicles is one of the better examples of the Match-3 puzzle genre, with simple touch-screen tile swapping, plenty of bonus items to utilise and a great story element to make playing actually worth doing.
Lovely Greek locations represented during the stage select screen, with some nice, colourful tiles during the puzzles. However, a few puzzle icons looking too similar causes far too much frustration and a certain level of polish appears to be missing.
The initial introductory music is extremely melodic and peaceful, but the tunes used in the main action itself are both repetitive and either boring or annoying.
With one hundred levels on offer, and the incentive of building twenty legendary structures along the way, all tied together with a hefty difficulty curve that will test even the toughest of puzzle nuts, Legend of Athena is great value indeed.
Jewel Link Chronicles: Legend of Athena is leaps and bounds better than the majority of Match-3 puzzle games on the market, introducing some extremely pleasing concepts to the story aspect. However, it still does not quite reach the upper echelons of the genre due to it not offering anything particularly different from predecessors and lacks real incentive for players to complete it in its entirety.