Oh boy oh boy, we get to play with our crappy capture device! And as a first, this is for the 360 rather than PS2 or Wii. Christ, at this rate we'll be covering Xbox One and PS4 games via a CRT sometime in 2084. Anyway, you can click the images to make them get bigger but we're not sure how much good it'll do. However, for our in-game screenshots you may notice that there's a little speed-up prompt in the bottom-right corner of all of them. Rather than get the game shots 'live', we opted for the easy way out, and took snaps from our better runs while playing the footage back in the Replay mode, as the game handily lets you 'lock' your best runs so they never get deleted. We've got to make things a little easier on ourselves sometimes, right? And this way you get to see snaps from our 'secret' scenario run on Normal. Spoilers inbound! Ha ha, I'm kidding, no-one cares about spoilers for this. I mean, I'm pretty sure no-one does. Maybe. I don't know, and don't care.
Jewelry Master Twinkle is a game that almost seems doomed to eventually disappear.
So, we're devoting a bit of a history lesson to it, before it fades away forever!
Before we talk about Jewelry Master Twinkle though, we have to start with plain ol' Jewelry Master, which is going to be tough because we can't actually play it. Released in a closed beta in late November 2006 (the page is actually still up if you want to download the client), Jewelry Master for PC was limited to 5000 users who had to register a login name with developer Arika- of Street Fighter EX and Tetris: The Grand Master fame- to play, and while visually and audio-wise it takes its cues from Tetris: The Grand Master, mechanics-wise this is very reminiscent of Taito's Cleopatra Fortune, gem-burying and all! We'll go over the specifics on how this early version differs from the Twinkle version in the Extended Play section, but as this interview with the developers translated by GlitterBerri verifies, they felt the mechanics were solid but the rules were too difficult for players to grasp easily, so they tweaked and simplified them to create Jewelry Master Twinkle, released on the Xbox 360 Indie Marketplace in 2009.
... But wait, we're not done with the context yet! The original Jewelry Master was a little spartan visuals-wise, so for Twinkle they decided to add a bit of character. Literally, they added characters to the side of the screen, one for each of the three difficulties, so that as the game famously states in its description, "You can enjoy the game kind of like a date". We'll get to that later as well, but the critical thing here is that these character designs are actually adapted from another Arika game! Specifically, they're taken from the single-player story mode of Taikyou Mahjong: Net de Ron! (対局麻雀 ネットでロン!, which I'm giving here 'cause you're not finding anything on this game without it!), with art done by Koike Sadaji (小池定路). However, the two girls on the cover- presented as separate girls in Jewelry Master Twinkle- are the same girl but she's just put glasses on (part of an act she has to go through to get a job as a waitress). All I could really dig up on the game was a brief playthrough on NicoVideo, a couple of Game Watch articles, and this nice set of wallpapers for the game. While I can't tell you a damn thing about mahjong, I can tell you this was probably one of the earliest PS2 games to have online play. It even supported the HDD!
(Actually talking about Jewelry Master Twinkle now, I promise.)
As we already said, Jewelry Master Twinkle has a lot of basic similarities with Cleopatra Fortune, with some elements from Tetris: The Grand Master series, but plenty of its own quirks. Pieces consisting of solid stone (which come in a few varieties, including single-blocks, long blocks, T-blocks and corner-blocks) and /or precious gems fall from the top of the screen, and you have to bury the gems to get rid of them, while stones can only be removed by making a line (and as the blocks adhere to gravity, you can make chain reactions this way). Those are the basics, but the real meat of the game is the gem synthesis. At the start, the gems come in three colours- red, blue and green- and will connect to each other, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo-style. All gems blob together, but different-coloured gems will synthesise into a new colour- yellow (green and red), magenta (red and blue) and cyan (blue and green)- which are worth more points when buried. Combining all three, either as the basic colours or a combined colour with the one it's missing, turns them into white gems, and these are worth the most points, and any gems you connect from there turn white too. So, blob 'em together and bury them for the most points and don't die, that's it, right?
Not quite, as there's a few more little foibles. In particular, there's one rather important thing that the game does a pretty bad job of explaining, as a result of the game's fairly ropey translation. If you bury gems of the same colour together, they'll disappear as expected, but if they aren't all the same- and this includes dropping a block and burying a new gem attached to it at the same time- they'll synthesise... But they won't disappear. I didn't quite cotton on to this the first few times I played, so I was getting frustrated as some gems just weren't disappearing when I thought they should've. Additionally, you can destroy gems outside of burying them by burying gems of the same colour, so if you have a bunch of red gems floating around, burying a red gem will destroy all of them too. These sound like really small additions, but they actually really change up how you approach things- you can essentially 'delay' destroying gem clusters by burying them but adding a gem in as you do, which synthesises them but doesn't destroy, so you can make another cluster of the same colour and destroy it, taking the other gems with them... Of course, the reward is great, but the risk is you need to make sure you can get rid of those gems clogging up your pit, otherwise it'll be over quickly.
This plays slightly into the other major system of the game, the one taking place outside the block pit- your date. The game has three selectable difficulties, and each of them has a different girl on the sidelines- Normal has Naoko with the green t-shirt, Hard has Kaori with the glasses, and Another (Death in the original Jewelry Master) has Nozomi who you won't see much of because instant block drops, baby. They start each session as if you're meeting up with them for a date, and every 100 levels (which advances 1 level at a time per block dropped, and also jumps up when you destroy gems or make lines) their speech bubble changes. This seems like little more than window-dressing until you realise this is a dating visual novel in disguise, your performance affects what route the conversation takes! If you play badly, at certain levels the background will turn red and the date will start to go badly. The thing is, the system the game uses to determine how you're doing seems to be vague and mysterious, as since there's almost no documentation of the game online, you've got to figure it out yourself, as well as figuring out how to get the 'secret' scenarios in each difficulty, and a second date that changes their costumes! Generally, though, you want to score big to alter the flow of conversation, so the best way to find those better paths is to create huge white gem deposits and score as highly and as quickly as possible. As silly as it sounds, I found myself really trying to get those alternate conversations, mostly because the one super-secret one I did unlock was utterly baffling, but also because it encourages you to learn the best ways to score big and quick, so you hit the requirements before the path split. See, it really is a visual novel!
So, I suppose the question is, does it surpass Cleopatra Fortune as the definitive block-burying experience? Actually, it kinda does! The adjustments made to the framework given to Arika by Cleopatra Fortune work to make things a little easier in parts- the pit is far, far larger (9 x 17 compared to CF's 7 x 13), there's no mummies to worry about, all the gems are one size until blobbed together- and make the game more challenging in others- gems synthesising and not being destroyed when done a certain way, the brutal speed the game reaches on later levels, the inclusion of Another mode at all, less time spent on easy settings. In essence, it does its level best to let beginners in (even if it could've done with a better explanation of how it works) then let them work their way towards the tough stuff (this is, of course, my level because I am comically bad at this) and at the same time, let the experts, the type who've played Tetris: The Grand Master, dive right in to the meat, and that's what gives it the edge over Patoraco. Not to say Cleopatra Fortune is bad in any way, but I think the games serve different purposes, for me anyway- when I'm not in the danger zone at the top of the pit, I find Cleopatra Fortune quite relaxing and instantly gratifying (must be that CLUNK sound the blocks make), so I tend to play it when I want to unwind or relax. Jewelry Master Twinkle, on the other hand, is something to play when I want to battle, fervently, against a puzzle game. It's a real challenge and it can be frustrating when a good run goes sour, but then I just start again, go right back in. Ultimately, I think the adjustments made here refine the concept enough to give it the edge, appealing to both ends of the puzzle game skill spectrum.
Now, that bit at the start, about Jewelry Master Twinkle being doomed to fade away? Sadly, the game was released not on Xbox Live Arcade, but Xbox Live Indie Games, a service for smaller games by smaller teams. It's a little surprising to see a developer like Arika on the service, but what this does mean is that it's going to disappear- in late 2015, Microsoft announced they're shutting down Xbox Live Indie Games in a winding-down process to be completed by the end of 2017. That sounds like ages away at the time of writing (if you're reading this in the future, then hello, welcome to March 2016) but it will happen, and a ton of weird, interesting games are gonna go! This includes, of course, this game (and the Light version we're gonna see in a minute). Digital distribution definitely has its plus points (in particular, I think without it, a lot of weirder games would never have got localised or released) but one of the big downsides is when a game gets taken down, if there was no physical release then it'll be gone forever. Such is the case with this one.
While you might be a little wary about buying a game for a service that's on its way out, I really can't recommend Jewelry Master Twinkle enough. One of those games where I'll just casually fire it up and then play obsessively for a solid hour. The changes implemented help it rise slightly above Cleopatra Fortune in my estimation- striking a better balance between letting beginner players in and giving the stronger players something to sink their teeth into, and it's also not got that slight problem with placing blocks at high speed that CF did- the game is cleanly-presented and, as silly as it is, the visual novel aspect is implemented in a pretty clever way. Just a shame the music's not quite as good as Shinin' Queen, but then again what is? If that sounds like your kind of deal, then get on this, fast!
For burying your spare time under hundreds of gems, Jewelry Master Twinkle is awarded...
In a sentence, Jewelry Master Twinkle is...
Cleopatra Fortune, polished to a mirror sheen.
And now, it's that time, folks!
As we said, we can't actually play the original Jewelry Master, but what we can tell you is one key difference in the game mechanics- unlike all the other versions, gems of different colours don't automatically synthesise when placed next to each other. Instead, gems have to be buried under stones first to make them synthesise, then have to be buried again in order to remove them from the pit. This makes the game a lot more complicated, as you have to re-bury pieces, either by removing the top covering them or having a chain reaction shuffle the pit around a bit. In any case, here's some footage of Jewelry Master on Death Mode for your amusement and delight.
Now, Jewelry Master Twinkle Light is a much cheaper version of the game, but it also takes a lot out and simplifies things even more. For a start, there's just the one game mode which has the Kaori scenario, so Naoko (Normal) and Nozomi (Another) get stood up. The game difficulty is also just another version of Normal rather than Hard that Kaori's stage originally was. Furthermore, the gem mechanics are simplified even further, as even if the gems you bury don't match up, they'll synthesise then immediately disappear anyway. This makes the game a lot easier but also removes some of the strategy of carefully picking when to synthesise and avoid destroying gems. The multiple routes are also still in place, but honestly you're best seeing Light as an alternate difficulty mode to the original rather than a replacement, so if you dig the game you're best getting both.
Hopefylly, we have piqued your interest in this great little puzzler. Please get it before it's too late!
Sadly, there doesn't seem to be an invisible blocks mode. Alas.