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GemSweeper

I have a top of the line computer. I can run most games at the highest settings. I’m not trying to brag. Most people would expect me to be taking full advantage of that raw power. I’m not. I’m not sitting here playing through Crysis. Nope, instead, all of my time playing games for the last week has been spent playing this:

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Meet GemSweeper, a 14MB download from Lobstersoft Games. Fans of Nintendo’s Picross DS will recognize this as a nanogram, or a picture logic puzzle. Using numbers written on the top and left side of the on-screen grid, players must use their deductive facilities to turning a field of manila squares into a colorful picture by logically determining where a colored tile is and destroying the tiles that aren’t. Once every tile is flipped or destroyed, you’re rewarded with a colorful image.

GemSweeper is yet another nanogram game. What starts as an easy game quickly becomes incredibly challenging – and naturally, incredibly addictive. With dozens and dozens of levels to play through, you’ll be caught up in the game for hours on end.

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Things begin quite simply with small, simple images on 5X5 grids. GemSweeper progresses at a smooth, reasonable pace, which should be helpful for players who are new to these types of games. However, by the fifth stage, you’ll begin to encounter massive puzzles on 30X30 grids. These puzzles are arguably the best part of the game. I absolutely loved the challenge of solving them and each was made more intense by a timer ticking away in the corner. Each mistake takes time off the timer and, when the timer reaches zero, you’ll be heading to the game over screen, so that means you have to make quick, smart decisions.

GemSweeper tries to keep players entertained through a silly but endearing storyline. The protagonist plays as an archeologist restoring ancient Mayan temples to please a temple God (Olmec perhaps?). As you progress, you’ll earn points through how many tiles you turned over, how fast you turned said tiles over, and how many mistakes you used in the level. Those points eventually raise your archeological rank, turning you into an “intrepid adventurer” and the like.

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You’re not alone on the adventure, either. You’re accompanied by an older explorer. His only role is to deliver one-liners commenting on the image you reveal after solving the nanogram. These usually aren’t very funny, but every now and then, one of them is, so you’ll keep paying attention. In the end though, I was glad he was included to add some spice to an otherwise vanilla graphical presentation. A “soothing” soundtrack accompanies the game – stereotypical South American temple music. It fits the theme and despite the corniness, it works.

The game does have faults, despite how fun it is. First, you can’t seem to go back and play old puzzles while in quest mode. Your only option seems to be to start a new game, which is a disappointment. And while the publisher’s boast that there are two modes, the “arcade mode” included is boring and purposeless. You play through quick, ever-changing grids. Once you clear a row or column, instead of revealing a picture, more tiles with different numbers appear. I found this mode to be very tedious and I honestly dreaded playing it.

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I feel like I’m in a weird minority that enjoys logic puzzles and nanograms, but I really liked this game. It is a great time killer but the mental challenge of the game makes me feel like I’m actually doing something, a feeling I don’t get from many other games. While it’s graphics and presentation aren’t going to win any technical achievement awards, that isn’t the point. With a game like this, it’s all about being fun, challenging, and addictive and GemSweeper is all three of those things.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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