Jewels is an addictive casual game for Android versions 1.6 or later from MHGames. It follows the tried-and-tested gem-matching concept beloved of fans of the Bejeweled franchise, but with slimmed-down functionality and at zero cost.
Four modes of gameplay are offered: Normal, Timed, Quick and Infinite. The first is our preferred option, in which you keep playing until you run out of gems to match. In this mode, you always need to be thinking about your next two or three moves.
Timed mode is also fun to play; here, MHGames removes the Hint function, and you'll need to make gem matches in quick succession in order to keep playing. Although this is more challenging than Normal mode, we found it frustrating when a momentary distraction caused us to run out of time. You can pause gameplay by pressing the menu button, or pressing the back button during a game causes a warning message to pop up onscreen that effectively does the same thing.
In Quick mode you must make as many matches as possible in 75 seconds, while Infinite mode lets you keep playing indefinitely. Each of the four modes has its own scoreboard, and you can also compete with friends online via Scoreloop.
Whereas Bejeweled offers rewards for matching more than three coloured gems, such as flame gems and hypercubes, the incentive isn't as obvious in Jewels. In fact, you score 10 points for matching three gems, 20 for four, and 30 for five. Jewels also keeps a tally of your longest chain - this is the number of matches that result from the movement of a single gem.
Neither will you find the daily coin spins, friend leaderboards and weekly tournaments, boosts and rare gems you might see in Bejeweled Blitz, for example. In common with that game, though, there are hints in case you get stuck, plus a scoring system that multiplies your points by a factor defined by your performance.
Unlike Bejeweled Blitz, where you must match a gem that contains a number to move up the scoring system, Jewels has a progress bar that fills up as you make matches (in Normal and Infinite modes, at least; in Timed and Quick modes this bar represents how long you have remaining). Once you've hit your target, matches are worth more points, the progress bar resets, and the background wallpaper changes colour. Each level also takes slightly longer to complete than the previous one.
Hints are automatic, with the gem you need to move twinkling for a second. If you don't happen to be looking at that area of the screen then it's easy to miss, and you'll have to wait a few more seconds for the game to repeat the hint. This can be particularly problematic if you're playing Jewels on a tablet, where it can be difficult to see all corners of the screen at once.
We preferred playing Jewels on our Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc smartphone, but found even this 4.2in screen slightly too large for comfortable one-handed gameplay. Gem matches at the far top or bottom left of the screen resulted in our thumb doing gymnastics. The ideal screen size will compromise between easy one-handed use and gems large enough that you don't accidentally select the wrong one.
The latest update rolled out by MHGames is said to improve stability and reduce freeze-ups with tablets and some smartphones - the Samsung Galaxy S2 in particular. We found no such problems on either our Xperia Arc or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet. The update also includes an easily bypassed registration screen - although this is necessary if you'd like to be kept up to date with new releases from the developer.
Jewels is ad-supported, with an unobtrusive banner sometimes appearing at the bottom of the screen.
Jewels is a simplified alternative to Bejeweled, but you'll have just as much fun matching the gems in this title. Better yet, Jewels is free to download. It's far too easy to lose whole chunks of your day in Normal or Infinite modes, however - restrict your five-minute breaks to the game's Timed and Quick options.