Jewels of the Oracle

Developer/Publisher:  Discis Entertainment
Year Released:  1995

Review by Gordon Aplin (May, 1995)
jewels.jpgIf you like the logic puzzles of Entombed or The 7th Guest, and you've been wondering how you are going to fill up the long winter nights that are ahead, then Jewels of the Oracle from Discis Entertainment may be just what you need.

It is not so much a game as a series of fiendishly complex puzzles that you can complete in any order and at your own pace. As the manual points out, there is 'no deadline, no running clock and no adversary to overcome.' The beautifully rendered setting depicts a magical location centred around a well where the members of an ancient, pre-Sumerian civilisation honed their skills in logic and reason. If you wish you may assume that you are an archaeologist who has stumbled upon this long-forgotten playground of superior intellects - the visuals, music and sound effects are superbly evocative of such a scenario - but this merest suggestion of a plot serves only to link the puzzles together in this particular context and is not crucial to your enjoyment.

Exploration first
Your first challenge is to work out what you are supposed to be doing and, fortunately, a little bit of exploration will soon put you on the correct path. The altar room holds a large, conglomerate jewel which is set in motion as you click on it. Spinning ever faster, it explodes and the individual jewels are scattered to each puzzle's location. Your task is to recover these jewels one at a time and return them to the altar. Sounds fairly easy, doesn't it? The catch is you must first solve a puzzle to claim your prize.

The puzzles, twenty-four in all, can now be accessed by returning to the well and entering any one of the six 'sides', (the map provided helps you to envisage the well as a hexagon), and clicking upon one of the four stones to reveal the image of your chosen puzzle in the water. Then click on the water to be magically transported to the room where your challenge awaits. Similarly, once you have solved a puzzle, a jewel will appear at the top of your screen and by pressing the 'control' key on your keyboard and clicking the left mouse button whilst your cursor is on the jewel, you will be transported directly to the altar room. Here you can place the jewel in a representation of the well and mark your progress in the game.

Patience ... patience ...
Those two travel features are very important and speed up the proceedings considerably, as does the ability to switch off 'video' mode in favour of the much quicker 'stills' mode. It may not be as fancy but it is more efficient. This game's major drawback is its lack of speed in allowing you to move around between puzzles. It is also very slow running-in each time you start up. This may be because it is a memory-hungry Windows game that scoffs at a measly 8Mb of RAM. Also, if I may be allowed to be a bit picky, the controls interface for changing settings and saving games, etc., is pure Windows and seems incongruous when it pops up to overlay the suitably atmospheric game screen where you can almost taste the dust of centuries. It has three positive aspects, however, it is simple to use, allows you to have as many save games as you like, and it is fast.

The puzzles themselves are all mouse controlled. Some merely require you to click on an item to manipulate it, such as turning a wheel, some you need to drag, such as dragging a tile to a different location, whilst others require you to both click and drag.

Difficulty levels
The interface also allows you to switch between easy and hard modes at any time except, of course, when you are actually doing a puzzle. For some, this seems to make no difference, but there are puzzles where the higher difficulty level adds new dimensions of complexity. For example, in 'easy' mode, a picture made up of twenty eight-squares appears, face-down. Click on a square and that portion of the picture is revealed momentarily - the merest glimpse. Drag that square to where you think it best fits and if you are correct it will remain face-up allowing you to build the picture around it. In 'hard' mode you are presented with a similar problem, but this time it's a different and more complex picture and the squares remain face-down, even when placed correctly, that is until it's finally completed.

Many of the puzzles rely on you recognising a pattern and having the ability to think several moves ahead. A few of them are so difficult it is a challenge just to work out what you are supposed to do, and I am not convinced that the Oracle himself is such a big help. The Oracle appears at the top of your screen once you have scattered the jewels and will give you a cryptic 'hint' or two about each problem you face. Actually, it's more like the barest nod in the right direction than an indication of what moves you are required to make, which is all very enigmatic. It's a puzzle in itself trying to decipher the hint.

Trial and error
The armchair purists among you probably won't deign to touch the mouse until the solution is worked out in your heads beforehand, but I found trial and error to be, by far, the best method to tackle some of the puzzles. Once you know the steps you must take, the rest follows logically. And when you finally recognise the solution, and you know that this time it will work, it does give you quite a 'buzz' - not enough to warrant punching the air or doing a lap of honour, but a good feeling nevertheless.

As an added dimension, one of the puzzles cannot be commenced until you have found the missing objects that are hidden in five of the other twenty-three rooms. This makes it essential to search all the rooms very carefully and I recommend that you opt for the animated cursor as its tip will turn green when it passes over a 'hot spot' to alert you to a puzzle, or an object, or simply a nice piece of animation. As you have no inventory, once the item has been found it will disappear again only to re-appear in the room where the puzzle is to be solved.

Jewels of the Oracle is a very good puzzle-based game that will provide hours of enjoyment and more than a little frustration. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1995. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
486SX25, 8MB RAM, 2xCD-ROM, Win 3.1, mouse