Nearly 20 years after conquering it, Super Metroid still ranks as my all-time favorite game. That's not the most startling revelation: the Super Nintendo game is widely regarded as one of the finest of its generation, and every time I return to it I'm thoroughly engrossed in its large, complex, secret-filled world.
Why mention it? Because I'm impressed at how well Traps n' Gemstones ($5) distills that kind of experience into something simpler and more straightforward—without losing the hook. It's similarly a side-scrolling adventure spanning a large and tangled map, with plenty of exploration and backtracking needed to push ahead. And just like many of the classics it emulates, it does a great job of pulling you deeper into the quest despite minimal narrative.
A real gem
Traps n' Gemstones takes place in one large interconnected world, with rooms upon rooms of platform-jumping challenges, light puzzles, enemy creatures, and items to snag. You'll quickly learn the lay of the land, as there's no linear path guiding your quest to recover lost ancient relics. An object found in one part of the map might need to be placed elsewhere, which then moves a barrier and leads to the next puzzle and perhaps relic. And so on and so forth until the adventure concludes.
No helpful arrows are here to point you in the right direction, and that's part of the charm. It's fun to piece together the puzzle that is this world by exploring every nook and cranny and stumbling upon secret paths and well-hidden items. The scale here is smaller than in comparable console games, but that works to its advantage: the world layout is a bit more condensed, plus you don't have to worry about equipping various weapons or powers. Simply focus on the puzzle or platforming challenge at hand, and then set about discovering the next objective ahead.
Explore and more
In classic Metroid and Castlevania fashion, there's a simple map that fills out as you travel across the setting, helping you find your way back to areas you'll need to revisit later. You'll also get a sense of how many relics are still out there to find.
Here's an example of a breezy early puzzle: You can jump onto the platform to pull the barrier out of the way, but it crashes back down before you pass it. Perhaps those birds can somehow help buy you extra time. (They can.)
Despite the obvious Indiana Jones theme and very minimal storyline, Traps n' Gemstones isn't as drab as it might seem. In this case, you've just convinced a stone-faced guard to let you pass by tracking down a gramophone elsewhere in the world.
Even with the map, it's easy to lose track of where you encountered certain puzzles or pedestals to place found relics. Luckily, there's a main elevator shaft that serves as a comforting hub to return to should you find yourself flummoxed.
Why it's worth your money
Traps n' Gemstones' spartan look works well, but this isn't a game that exudes ample style or charm: Instead, it's focused on the gameplay loop, which pays off well for this surprisingly addictive adventure.
Part of what makes it so engaging is the scoring/life system, which amazingly satisfies both casual and hardcore players splendidly. You'll perish if attacked by an enemy, but you can respawn in the same room. However, doing so resets your score to zero. Focused on topping your leaderboard of friends? Opt to start the game over instead—and be more careful. It's such a simple solution, yet it's one that works perfectly for a game like this.
More importantly, Traps n' Gemstones has just the right scale and scope for a $5 game. The map is large, but not overwhelming, and you can clear a playthrough in a few hours if that's all you're in for. But that nagging hook to keep exploring to find everything, and then go back and attempt a perfect playthrough, adds impressive depth for serious players. That helps elevate Traps n' Gemstones to being much more than a passable mobile genre study of a stalwart console genre: it's a strong game done right on Android.
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