The Treasures of Montezuma Review—Montezuma’s Match-3 Game
Match-3 games, similar to Bejeweled, are one of the staples of casual gaming. They are simple, pretty much a Skinner Box, but provide some mental stimulation and lots of satisfying visual effects on the screen when you make a good move. The Treasures of Montezuma, one of Alawar Entertainment’s entries into the genre, is actually surprisingly hardcore, rather than casual.
The gameplay in The Treasures of Montezuma is basically the same as in other match-3 games. Each level is a grid of jewels of different colors. You try to make matching rows or columns of 3 in a row by swapping two adjacent jewels. When you do, the matched jewels vanish, and more jewels drop in from the top.
How you complete a level in a match-3 game is something that changes from game to game (and sometimes within a game). In The Treasures of Montezuma, you just destroy a number of specific jewels that have a gem attached to the center of them. This is generally achieved by making them vanish by including them in a match, but they also can be destroyed by a power-up or special ability which you can unlock as you progress in the game.
Indeed, after you complete each level, you are given a chance to upgrade a special power or ability. There are a about a dozen of these things—you aren’t given too much leeway in what you can pick, as only a few are eligible to be picked at one time. Still, these are the key to being successful in the game, so you have to pay attention to what you pick.
Most of these special abilities are conditional. Some will add a power-up to the board when you make a match of 4 jewels. But, the most important are the ones that take effect when you make two matches in a row of the same color. For instance, if you match red twice in a row, fireballs will destroy random parts of the grid. Or if you match orange twice in a row, it will add 30 seconds of precious time to the clock.
Why is Treasures harder than the average match-3 game? Well, for one, you start off with six different colors of jewels: red, orange, green, grey, yellow, and purple. Most match-3 games start with three or four colors and work their way up. The more colors on the screen, the fewer matches possible, so it starts off hard, rather than gradually increasing the difficulty.
Secondly, you face a fairly strict time limit to complete a level. When you only need to destroy five to fifteen of those special gem-encrusted jewels in four or five minutes, it’s not too difficult. When you have to match twenty-five, it’s tricky, and the number keeps going up and up and up with every level of the game, so it gets very hard indeed.
So, you need to be able to both find matches quickly as well as plan out your moves ahead of time in order to take advantage of the abilities that require matching two colors in a row. The orange ones in particular, as they add more time, but also later on, green is quite important; it grabs all the gems on the screen, so it eliminates having to work your way towards isolated ones in a corner (which can take a lot of time).
In the PC version (which I own, in fact), there is actually a fairly decent story involving a young archaeologist named “Emily Jones.” For whatever reason, that is missing, along with a tutorial. Seems like a rather strange omission, considering they went to the trouble of animating Ms. Jones on the main menu (she winks at you once in a while).
There are 41 levels, divided up into 5 stages. In the PC version, you got more of the story in between the stages (and indeed, this explained what you were doing all this jewel matching for), but not here. That actually would not be a lot of levels if this were a laid-back match-3 game, but unless you are very, very good, you’ll probably be repeating a lot of levels. In between stages is a mini-game. Stars labeled with a face button symbol on them come flying out of the side of the screen, and you must press the appropriate button until you capture the star.
The Treasures of Montezuma is a fairly old match-3 game as far as they go, and the gameplay is a bit dated compared to more recent games in the genre (including its own sequels—they are up to The Treasures of Montezuma 3 now, with a couple of additional spinoffs such as The Treasures of Montezuma Blitz for the Vita). That said, it’s still one of the better games, one that requires far more strategy than other match-3 games.
It is very challenging, though, and certainly not for those that play match-3 games for a relaxing experience. The gameplay in this is quite frantic. On the flip side, the fast and furious gameplay combined with the need for strategy might make it appeal to those that don’t ordinarily enjoy match-3 games.
Still, the very best match-3 games of today will mix up the gameplay a lot more. While the gameplay of The Treasures of Montezuma is compelling, it does get a bit stale and repetitive after a few levels in a row—the mini-game doesn’t occur often enough to make a difference. And you don’t even have the story to lighten things up.