I know you’re not going to read a review of a match-3 game for the Nintendo 3DS, even if I start by saying that it’s actually a pretty good match-3 game. I’d be surprised if you’ve read this far. And you’re certainly not going to read anything past the jump, so I can just write whatever I want. I mean, psh, who reads reviews of match-3s? Who even writes them?

After the jump, you won’t find any lurid tales of crime and sex

Too often I read a videogame or movie review in which the writer just holds forth, usually to show off some funny hyperboles he thought up. I hate that. Tell me about the game. Say something with insight instead of something just funny. If I wanted to read something just funny, I sure wouldn’t read reviews. These reviews are worse than the reviews that just reiterate a game’s features. At least those reviews are informative.

I’m not going to do that here, partly because Cradle of Rome 2 doesn’t really merit any hyperbole and a feature list would be too short. Plus, that’s not really my style. But mainly, I know no one is reading this, so I’m just going to take the opportunity to get a few things off my chest. If a priest, rabbi, or therapist is reading, thanks in advance.

When I was a kid, I must have shoplifted about twenty Stormtrooper action figures from the K-Mart on John Barrow Road in Little Rock. I’d finger the package, pretending I was considering a purchase, surreptitiously prying the bubble wrap from the cardboard backing. Once it was open wide enough, the action figure would neatly drop into my hand, where it would then quickly find its way into my pocket. Casually, casually, casually, strolling out, forcing myself to go slowly, casually, casually, casually, intently trying to act like I hadn’t just stolen a Star Wars action figure because you can’t very well have Han Solo go up against just two Stormtroopers. Then you can’t have him go up against just five. Eventually not even ten will do. It’s a downward spiral. I had so many Stormtroopers. It was epic and all very ill-gotten. I was the head of a one-man crime empire based on Star Wars action figures.

Let’s see, what else? There was the time in high school me and Trey Bohannon got caught stealing tapes out of unlocked cars, but we got arrested for that, so it’s a matter of public record somewhere. No need to confess it here where no one will see it. A woman once gave me too much change at a Kentucky Fried Chicken and I kept it. I downloaded a copy of Arkanoid from a BBS in the early 90s. In graduate school, while I was dating Molly Simmons, I once made out with a blonde freshman named Christie who lived in Molly’s dorm. I have impure thoughts about Sarah Palin. Which reminds me, if you’re ever on my computer, please don’t look in the folder labeled “tax records”.

But, hey, how about that Jewel Master: Cradle of Rome 2? That title is way too many words for such a simple game. It’s a match-3 game, the latest in a long line of Jewel Master games also avaiable on web browsers. The gimmick is that when you match jewels, you earn resources. Between levels, you spend your resources to unlock new matchable resources. Some of these resources are actually ingame bonuses, like bombs that blow up blocks of jewels. It’s simple, effective, and cloyingly familiar.

The resource gathering is a good gimmick, but the folks who make Jewel Master won’t let you just grind away at resources. Instead, each level is timed. If you fail, you get nothing. So the basic progression is playing, playing, playing, playing, then, oops, stuck. You might have to do the same level several times over to get past it. Popcap would never do this to a player! Maybe that’s part of why I like this series enough to write about it; it’s a rare match-3 that will deny you in any meaningful way.

The levels vary not just by the resources you’re earning, and the gradually unlocked bonus powers, but by the shape of the arena. Jewel Master loves to put you into half empty screens where you have to match-3 your way past a chokepoint. When this happens, the jewels flood into the empty part of the screen, usually matching themselves into chain reaction frenzy. These moments are the real payoffs.

So why isn’t this on the iPhone? I guess because the jewels are too tiny. With its intricate jewel graphics and large levels, this game really needs the precision of a stylus. The Nintendo 3DS still has that going for it. It’s certainly more useful than the 3D tech, given how little I care that the top screen has superfluous 3D (3D!) scenery of ancient Romish things. The game could use some sort of leaderboards. Who makes a time-waster these days without using leaderboards to drive the gameplay? I guess a company that instead drives the gameplay with a city building metagame. At least it’s got achievements.

All right, so now I can sleep better tonight. Oh, and here’s a nice, boring, middle-of-the-road review score just to ensure no one will ever read this.

3 stars
3DS