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Rating: 4.8/5 (29 votes)
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Gemsweeper banner

JohnBGemsweeper 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. Gemsweeper closeupStones 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.

gemsweeper1.jpgYou 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.

gemsweeper2.jpgAnalysis: 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.

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Mac OS XMac OS X:
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So, it may be just me, but this game sounds suspiciously like a game that you can get on the Nintendo DS right now - exact same mechanism, with numbers to the top and left that tell you how many tiles there are inside.

You also reveal pictures by figuring out where the tiles go - it's marketed as a game for sudoku fans who have grown bored.


This is great! I love picross, and this is a really excellent version of it.


Yes, it is very similar, Sean. John was correct to label this a "picross" game, and the game you're thinking of is called Picross DS. So, yes, it's the same concept. But the DS version isn't the first game like it. Picross has been around for many years. In fact, we featured a picross game here at JIG a couple of years ago: TylerK's Picross.

And I also agree that the game is somewhat similar to sudoku, as I was thinking that several times while playing Gemsweeper. And while it's a logic-based puzzle game, it's a different sort of puzzle from sudoku, made even better by the revealing of pixel art as you progress.

I've been playing this game for several days myself, and I keep coming back to it.


Sean: this kind of puzzle is called "picross," and it's been the basis for many games. They're also called nonograms:


Nothing fishy going on.


Nuts to my lack of speed!



The two replies complement each other nicely. :D


Thanks for the responses :D.

I wasn't thinking that there was something fishy, though d'oh to me that I didn't think to google/wiki the term picross first :P.

Too bad gemsweeper isn't for mac though it plays decently on my PC. Actually makes me wonder whether I should get Picross DS...

Has anyone bought Sudoku DS and believed it was a good deal? I just can't picture coming back to Sudoku, so I'm a bit wary about buying Picross.


Sean: In my opinion, picross > sudoku. Sudoku is far too left-brained, while picross adds a dash of fine non-linearity to the mix to make it so much more pleasing. Play TylerK's Picross to get a feel for the puzzles before you buy anything. I've got Picross DS and it's a great game (though the music is a bit annoying).

Do not fear the picross! Embrace it! :-)


I've got Picross DS and it's great, especially for the train or bus commute. The only issue I have with it is the mode-switching with the stylus... but then again it's not that inconvenient. I'd recommend it if you like Picross/Nonograms and you can't be at your computer/can't have a pencil-and-paper all the time.


Ok guys, let's please keep this on-topic. The discussion here is for Gemsweeper. :)


IMO, the right-click = hammer/left-click = touch option should be the default, but I'm grateful that it's available all the same. I kinda like the music, and the game itself is very fun. Did you say the puzzles reach 30 tiles deep? I may have to buy it.. hm.


Yes, agreed Ben. I wound up enabling that in the options very soon after I started playing.

I still get confused sometimes, though, and right-click when I mean to left-click and vice versa. It actually startles me and makes me jump when I do that, as it is usually accompanied by the sound of breaking glass as I destroy a tile. Perhaps that's why it isn't on by default?


well, i'm a half hour into the demo, and i'm not exactly pleased. don't get me wrong, i love picross, but this one just doesn't do it for me. maybe it's because i'm forced to traverse one level at a time in order in the quest mode, and there's no readily available way to jump to larger 15x15 or 20x20 puzzles, which is the difficulty i like. all of the puzzles i will get to on this demo hour are probably going to remain in the realm of the 10x10, possibly 10x15 at most, although i won't know until i get there. the other discouraging thing is, this review said there were over 225 puzzles... methinks, that's it? i really would like more puzzles than that, and especially if the first 30 have all been of the easy difficulty. aside from my griping about the quest mode, the arcade mode didn't really quench my desires either. i'd much rather solve a whole puzzle than one line at a time.

okay, so i need to stop complaining about this product. now, let's tackle the gameplay... i've played other picross games where if you fill in all of the blackened/colored/darkened spaces, it's not necessary to nix out the other null spaces. the fact that this game does that irks me. i can clearly see to the right that i have completed a triangle, why can't the level just end there? what purpose (other than scoring) does forcing the nixing accomplish? that's a severe gripe in my mind.

as for controls, i really do appreciate the left/right mouse button thing (since switching back and forth would get irritating quickly), but i rather liked the way tylerk's picross did it, with the mouse button to paint or the mouse button + another button (ie shift) to nix. or another game, which used the keyboard, in which the arrows move the cursor, one button paints, and another nixes. maybe this game could use some different control options rather than the default and one other button?

okay, i'm done. sorry for the rant, but this one just didn't do it for me. i'll gladly finish out the free trial, but i don't believe i'll buy this game.


how come the weekend downloads are never ever for mac users too? there are plenty of mac gamers out there, especially online!!


A good intro to these type puzzles, but I agree with Art that these are way too simple if you have any experience with them.

Even the larger puzzles appear to be mostly big block shapes, which are much easier than small, broken up lines.

I disagree with Art about having to block out the negative spaces. Knowing where a tile is NOT is sometimes the key to solving. In complex puzzles, this is difficult to keep up with mentally, so being able to mark the proven empty spaces is helpful.

I prefer the more difficult paper versions in Games, but they left intro level years ago. Play this for a while then subscribe to Games if you like them.


Art - Personally, I do not want to use two hands to play. Right or left-click does it just fine thank you.

I don't mind clearing the whole puzzle, in fact, there's something about doing so that really agrees with my OCD. :p

And there are a LOT of puzzles. I'm not nearly even half-way through and I've been playing this game for a few hours a day for several days now.

By my calculations, there is well over 20 hours of game play not including the arcade mode. That's pretty decent by today's standards. Some console games don't even offer that much for more than twice the price.


I tried the demo about 3-4 months ago & I liked it. I thought for sure it would say that my "demo time had expired", but it didn't.

I like how you can sweep a whole line of blocks to reveal gems or break them. It's like popping bubble wrap with style.


OK, did the first three temples within the demo time plus hanging out a load of laundry. I have to agree with the consensus here, its too easy for too long and there's not enough to sink your teeth into which says 'buy me'.

I don't like how yes/no clicks were with the same button and switching was with the second. I had to keep checking which mode I was in before clicking which was just as time consuming as clicking the icon to change. I would have preferred, left-click on a good tile, right click on a bad tile. A simple yes/no method.

Also, who invited that fat guy? He never does any work, but feels the need to chime in every time I get somewhere? "It's a clothes line! Now, where's that other sock?" I don't know... where is the next puzzle? It'd be here by now if you'd just leave me alone.

That's my three cents.

Also, was it really years ago that TylerK's Picross came up? Wow... Doesn't seem all that long ago... how time moves on.


Adam - the option to turn on right-click for hammer is in the options menu. It's quite satisfying using it that way. Note our comments earlier discussing whether that should have been on by default.

And I just finished the 5th temple, and I really don't see how you folks can say it's too easy. Granted, I can finish them well within the time period, but I often make mistakes and many of them I really have to work at to solve.

Perhaps this isn't the best game for seasoned picross fans, but for the casual game player I believe it's just about perfect.

PS - and the big guy has made me chuckle more than a few times, so leave the poor guy alone! :p


I love picross! This may worth booting into windows for...


I agree that the difficulty is definitely on the easy side, but for people who aren't masters at it yet, that may be a good thing. It's hard to find easier ones, though they definitely do get a little old. I personally think the interface could be much better, but it does have a lot of puzzles and it's nice just for that. The gaps separating the blocks of five definitely need to be bigger, I can hardly tell them apart and miscounting gets me more than anything else (except maybe my touchpad auto-dragging the cursor after I lift my finger off, but that one is outside the game's control).

Probably my biggest pet peeve about this game is its tendency to start you off with a nice 15x15 board... then put a few 0s on all the edges, so it's essentually a 10x10 boad. Why not just make it that to start with? How silly. They've also cheated a bit in that they've used colors to make the pictures rather than using the pattern that you have to solve, but the basic feel of the puzzle is still there, I suppose.

From an aspiring game designer's POV, I think the presentation of the puzzles is very interesting. There are at least a half dozen different progress meters. Is that typical of games like these? I've actually been considering making a picross interface for awhile so this game intrigues me.


I LOVE picross, and this game looks great!

...too bad it's not mac-compatible. I hope they release it for mac soon.



Almost a year later, and this game is still fun to play. As a beta tester for it, I got email this week stating that they are working on a sequel, with a survey for users to comment on elements to include/take out. Can't wait for the sequel!


Update. The upgraded version is at lobstersoft and it is still a great game to play.

Anonymous January 2, 2009 10:00 PM

GemSweeper is another nanogram game. it starts as an easy game then quickly becomes incredibly challenging - and naturally, incredibly addictive. a very nice game with such a dozens and dozens of levels to play through, you'll be caught up in the game for hours on end.

auroraB June 30, 2009 8:30 PM

I also agree that this stays easy for too long, but everything else was good.
The fat guy that keeps popping up? At some point, the picture ended up being a kid with glasses and the professor says to me, "Look! A Geek!" Like a geek was the most exotic species that they have yet encountered in this rainforest expedition. Not monkeys, not parrots, not giant snakes or lions or tigers or bears, but a geek.


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