Gemsweeper is a casual game that combines elements of picross ("picture crossword") and minesweeper, created by Lobstersoft. Your goal is to uncover hidden treasure by breaking rocks to help Topex reconstruct the temples of El Dorado. Stones are arranged in grids with sets of numbers above and to the left that serve as clues as to which tiles contain gems and which are cursed. Bash cursed tiles with a hammer, then grab gems from the rest of the grid to complete each puzzle and re-build the temple, one brick at a time!
Picross puzzles are one part Minesweeper and one part crossword puzzle with a dash of sudoku-style flavor thrown in for good measure. The numbers outside of the grid are your clues to which tiles should be filled in and which should be blank (in the case of Gemsweeper, filled tiles contain treasure, while blank ones are cursed and should be smashed). For example, if a column shows "3 2" at the top, there will be three filled squares in a row followed by at least one space and then two filled squares afterwards. The challenge is to find out which tiles are filled and how many spaces are between the groups. Confused? Don't worry, Gemsweeper has a thorough tutorial system to ease you into the game. It's quite simple when you see it in action.
You have two tools to use to complete puzzles: a hand icon and a hammer. Use the hand to grab treasure from tiles that should be filled and swing the hammer to smash cursed tiles with a satisfying crunch. If you try and grab treasure from a tile that's cursed, you'll lose a chunk of precious time. And if you break a tile that holds a gem, Professor McGuffog appears to patch the gem together with glue. You only have a few pots of glue available, so keep your cursor cool and think logically. Unlike most picross games, Gemsweeper requires you to fill in tiles as well as eliminate cursed ones.
Gemsweeper's levels are divided into temples, each with twelve puzzles to complete. The difficulty level remains extremely low for the first several temples, so picross masters may get bored early on. Fortunately action-oriented bonus stages are available between temples that let you complete a constantly regenerating picross grid. These are also available as a separate arcade mode from the main menu, which is a nice touch.
Analysis: Picross is one of my favorite pen-and-paper puzzle games, so naturally any computerized form will tickle me addicted. Gemsweeper doesn't add anything new to the picross game scene, but that simplicity works wonders for it. Instead of crowding the interface with unnecessary options or crummy mini-games, Gemsweeper streamlines the picross experience to make it easy for anyone to play. Believe it or not, I've seen games that ruin picross with a clunky interface and bad design. Gemsweeper is not one of those games!
One great feature of Gemsweeper is how you can mark rows and columns of tiles with a quick sweep of the mouse without hitting neighboring squares. The game recognizes when you drag the mouse and confines the click to your current row or column, preventing adjacent tiles from being touched. When you're trying to knock out a whole area of tiles with a quick swipe, you'll want to give the designers a hug for including this feature.
The story behind Gemsweeper isn't much to speak of, neither are the sound effects and overall visual package. Most of the dialogue is horribly cheesy, but it adds a kind of B-movie charm, enough to make you crack a grin between intense puzzle rounds.
If you're a picross nut like me, Gemsweeper will (eventually) give you an excellent challenge in a pleasing, easy-to-use package. There are over 225 puzzles with the larger ones spanning 30 or more squares. Plenty to keep you busy for quite some time. Newbies to the picross scene will find a gentle introduction to the fascinating genre of puzzles, all wrapped up in a fun casual package.