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Jewel Master (Genesis) artwork

Jewel Master (Genesis) review


A fantasy setting, a demon king conquering the land with his army, and a quest for the holy blade. Jewel Master won't win points for story originality, but the chances of you wanting to play this for its plot and "world-building" is next to zero. Instead, mechanics and its approach to combat are the two things that will get you interested in this side-scrolling action title. Attacking is done with the use of magic rings, and when your journey begins within a forest, you're in possession of a red ring and a blue ring, one on each hand. The red unleashes a fiery melee slash that can be used to take out roaming golems and ogres, along with rambunctious pterosaur creatures in the sky. If your timing is right with the blue ring, you can erect a barrier to block attacks for one second.

Nice, but not a unique concept for a video game. However, the interesting part comes with another trick you can do with the rings: combine their powers. If you place the red and blue rings on the same hand... nothing happens. But! Moments later, inside a ruined building, a new ring drops from a defeated armored foe. Combine it with either the red or the blue ring, and the result will be a projectile shot to keep enemies at a distance. Obtaining rings becomes a theme with each successive stage, creating new fusions like running faster, jumping higher, or a longer lasting barrier, which in turn invites for different solutions to combat. Though, to prevent your protagonist from being too powerful, you can only use two rings per hand.

The first stage, while rather simple, does a sufficient job introducing the combat, mechanics, and the general attack patterns of your opposition; the latter showcasing enemies either getting in your personal space, flying enemies that dive in, or "pillars" that shoot projectiles from afar. And with Jewel Master now sounding like a more adequate concept, this seems like a game worthy of your time. Well, until you arrive at the second stage and start questioning the overall quality.

It starts off innocently in the desert, as you walk over several dunes and with established enemy types appearing. A little ways in, you encounter odd situations like how your projectile attacks are phasing through flying enemies, due to small hit boxes. Unfortunately, these winged opponents move fast, making it irritating to destroy as they pierce through your health. Another annoying enemy are scorpions that hide in the sand, with some being placed at the bottom right side of dunes, opposite of where you're standing. What doesn't help here is that you also can't attack diagonally or below your character. You think there would be a good ring attack for such an occasion, but there's none yet. You pretty much have to "trick" these enemies into jumping out and hope you don't get hurt in the process.

The second portion of the stage occurs inside a building, where several pillar enemies await within a "maze." Calling it a maze is an insult to actual mazes because, despite there being branches, you hit a dead end literally a few steps into taking the wrong path. From a level design perspective, it's one of the most bizarrely-constructed areas in the game. The stage concludes with another outside portion, where someone is shooting human-sized fireballs from off screen. These fireballs don't fly straight: they slowly bounce towards you. Imagine, as you're continuously walking right for a solid 15-some seconds, that you have to dodge spaghetti meatball-looking fireballs while also contending with what looks like dinosaurs flapping around in the sky. Bowser's castle this is not.

Stage two just fails at being fun or engaging within the realm of its "abstract" level design; the first portion is a chore, the second portion feels like someone created a maze with 20 Lego blocks, and the third portion is like an unintended comedy. Subsequent stages, while not as outrageous in its structuring, becomes frustrating because most play out like the first portion. The third stage has you walking across a long sheet of ice and fighting floating head creatures who charge at you while shooting a projectile. Later in a cramped ice cave, where you have to ascend and descend, you keep bumping into bats, flies, and falling ice monsters. This is 100% intentional because they're all situated beside platforms you have to step on. If it wasn't for the fact that you're given a good ring combo prior to fighting any of these foes, stage three would've been much worse.

If it wasn't obvious by this point, Jewel Master leans toward the oldschool method of forcing players to immediately react and counter to avoid punishment. This is also evident in other aspects, such as being sent to the beginning of each stage once your health is depleted and, yes, this also applies to boss encounters. Not stopping there, you also have a limited set of continues. What makes the limit harsh is that your health state carries over to beginning of the next stage; it's entirely possible to beat a boss with one health point remaining, lose at the start of the following stage, and then get sent to the title screen. The biggest issue is that, in an attempt to stop players from beating the game's five stages quickly, there's just too many restrictions implemented in order to make things "challenging."

A good hard game will still punish, but it will also have competent design, thus encouraging you to keep playing. Jewel Master is not that.

It's a shame, because Jewel Master has some actual neat moments scattered about. Of particular note is the usually upbeat, energetic music becoming surprisingly morbid in the opening portion of the fifth final stage. The ominous theme lends to an uneasy atmosphere as you step into a castle that senses your arrival; very Castlevania-esque. There's also a "clever" moment that involves fighting the fourth stage dragon boss. Its second form, a skull and skeletal spine that rapidly flies around the screen, is a frustrating fight that can kill you in seconds. However, unlike the other bosses, this one is treated more like a puzzle, forcing you to really think about the game's main gimmick and how to use it. Though, it's something that can easily be overlooked due to the fact that you would be too upset about dying in a blink of an eye.

But overall, once you get the general gist on how most enemies function and figure out the best ring combinations to use during certain scenarios, the experience becomes a little more bearable. The latter is not that hard to do once you go beyond stage two's weirdness, as you're usually handed a ring that's useful in an upcoming segment. At its worst, the whole experience just feels like tedious work as you fight shoddy hit boxes, awkward enemy placements, and transparent handicaps. It's just, whenever you die, it feels like you died a little bit on the inside as you have to plod through the whole boring stage again; that's not something you're supposed to feel about a game that's meant to entertain...

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (November 09, 2023)

As vaguely implied in the review, SpellCaster would get a Sega Genesis "sequel" called Mystic Defender. Both SpellCaster and Mystic Defender are actually reworked versions of Kujaku Ou and Kujaku Ou 2, based on a manga series that began in 1986.

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