Searching for Gems 

Sometimes a review can be difficult to complete especially when you have become addicted to the game on which the review is based.
Lobstersoft GemSweeper

One element that has remained fairly constant throughout the different versions of Windows has been the Minesweeper game.  Apart from some very minor make-over touches, the game has remained the same.  Although this game does have a loyal band of fans, I am definitely NOT one of them.  Nothing about the game has appealed to me.  Despite this feeling of apathy towards Minesweeper, a game that seems to have taken its inspiration from Minesweeper has quickly insinuated itself into my game playing schedule.  This game is entitled Gemsweeper.

Developed by Lobstersoft, Gemsweeper is available for downloading on a trial basis before you need to hand over your hard-earned cash (well a credit card purchase actually).  As you might expect from its title, Gemsweeper has more to do with finding gems rather than mines although there is a minor explosive effect if you select an incorrect tile.  Once found these gems can be used to help finance the restoration of an ancient Mayan temple city.

While the Minesweeper influence (especially with the title) is evident, after playing the game, almost compulsively, for numerous sessions I have come to the conclusion that Sudoku has at least an equal bearing on the design of the game.  Gemsweeper can be played in Quest or Arcade mode while a tutorial is supplied but is hardly necessary.  Only the Quest mode is accessible with the trial version of the software.  However you do get a taster of arcade style of game play in the bonus rounds that pop up from time to time.

The game is played out on grids of varying sizes (from 5 x 5 up to 30 x 30) made up of tiles.  Hidden behind some of these tiles are the gems which you seek.  You are provided with a hammer for destroying unwanted or cursed tiles and a hand for selecting tiles that contain gems.  Get it wrong and you are penalised.  Like Minesweeper and Sudoku, numeric clues are provided to help identify the tiles concealing the gems.  However these numeric clues are presented in a different fashion. 

Running across the top of each column and down the left side of each row are numbers indicating the number of gems in that row or column and how they are arranged.  For example seeing the numbers 4 and 2, tells you that there are two groups consisting of 4 and 2 gems separated by at least one cursed tile.  Using the appropriate tool, you need to select each tile in the appropriate row or column. 

Each grid is played against the clock with a time penalty occurring for each tile that is incorrectly identified or your quantity of gem-repairing glue is used up.  The layout of the discovered gems is such that they form a basic image.  At the conclusion of each grid, an animated professor character appears with some comment, often humorous, regarding the image.

Points are awarded for each completed grid based on the number of tiles found and the time taken.  There is also an additional bonus for each grid that is completed without any mistakes.  As you points total grow, so you achieve a higher rank.  Bonus rounds occur at intervals and these involve tackling a grid where each completed row or column is immediately replaced by another row or column.

In total there are well over 200 grids to complete that are both fun and challenging. I do have one slight criticism regarding the rather small numbers used when a 30 x 30 grid is the target - my eyesight is not what it used to be,  The game requires a 300MHz processor with 128MB of RAM and 150MB of free hard disk space running Windows 98 and later.  The full version of Gemsweeper has been priced at $19.95.

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