I hope no one takes this the wrong way, but Traps n' Gemstones [$4.99] isn't exactly the kind of game I've come to expect from prolific mobile developers Donut Games. Don't get me wrong, their games have a very consistent quality to them, and like their namesake, there isn't really a bad one in the bunch. Still, in the past, they've tended to put together highly-focused gameplay experiences, often building a game around mastery of a single concept, whether it be cutting grass, flinging monkeys, or batting a ball between cats. Short little score-attack affairs, for the most part, have been the bread and butter of Donut Games, and they've found a lot of success with that type of game.

By contrast, Traps n' Gemstones is a considerably more meaty experience with clear appeal towards more traditional gamers than they typically target. It's a side-scrolling action platformer with a heavy emphasis on exploration in an interconnected world, similar to Nintendo's classic Metroid. You play as a somewhat familiar explorer who descends into a pyramid looking for lost treasure. A bad guy has tied up the locals and taken all of the relics from their pedestals, throwing the whole place out of whack. You have to free the locals, find all the relics, and open up the path to the ending. In typical fashion for this genre, you will frequently run into places where you can't proceed without first finding an item or ability elsewhere. As an added bonus, there are a number of non-essential extra treasures called symbols that you can collect to boost your score and your completion percentage.

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The adventure unfolds on a fairly large map full of secret passages and shortcuts for you to uncover. While I compared the game to Metroid in the last section, the game's map is closer to Metroid II, with a tall central column from which several spokes diverge. You'll be making your way back to that center area more than a few times, but smart design cuts down on the number of trips you need to take. If you happen to get lost or can't figure out where to go next, the pause menu has a mini-map that puts little dots on current rooms of interest. Of course, it's not just as simple as taking a stroll, as the rooms are stocked full of traps and light puzzles. Your character can only take a single hit, but death simply restarts the room, with the modest penalty of resetting your score to zero.

In the start, your character can only jump and roll, leaving him defenseless against the many creatures that fill the pyramid, but pretty soon after, you'll get a whip and a pistol, items that for some reason go really well with that fedora and leather jacket he's wearing. While you'll collect several items on your journey, most of them are used automatically or by tapping a context-sensitive pop-up, leaving the virtual controls relatively clean and uncluttered. Thanks to the generous checkpoint system and the friendly map, it's actually pretty easy to make your way through to the end of the game, such as it is, but it does take a couple of hours. It's a respectable length for a game of this genre, even if the main adventure does lack teeth for the most part.

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Luckily for experienced players, there are a couple of higher challenges to the game. While getting to the end of the game is fairly simple, collecting all of the symbols and finding all of the secret rooms takes a bit more skill and patience. Since dying resets your score, there's also the additional challenge of trying to boost your score as high as possible to compete with your friends or on the Game Center leaderboards. Better still, while dying also replaces any of the gems and coins you've picked up, it does not replace any collected symbols, meaning that if you want to completely maximize your score, you have to collect everything without dying even once, all the way from the start. I think that will prove a pretty serious challenge for even the best players, because it's really easy to forget about one stupid thing or another as you work your way through.

The map design is excellent, with layouts that keep you hopping, rolling, and attacking your way through platforms, enemies, and traps. This goes a long way towards keeping things enjoyable even as you backtrack across territory you've previously traversed. The various traps and gimmicks are surprisingly varied, with some making just a single appearance. Virtually all of the Indiana Jones cliches show up at one point or another, and I had a great time with the sections where you blast from cannon to cannon in the style of Donkey Kong Country. If you pay close attention, you can see a very careful design at work here, with new mechanics introduced in a non-lethal environment, allowing you to get a feel for them before the heat gets turned on. Sensibly-placed shortcuts serve to reduce some of the backtracking, while simultaneously giving you a few fun moments of realization as you find yourself somewhere you saw before, but couldn't reach. The pyramid is just a fun place to explore and run around in, something that is absolutely critical for this type of game.

It's all wrapped up with the usual workman-like polish Donut Games always brings to the table. The visuals aren't stunning, but everything is nicely detailed, with important gameplay elements standing out well against the sometimes dark backgrounds. The somewhat small size of the main character's sprite allows for a better viewing area around him, something that is very important for this type of game since it reduces the chance of an unfair "gotcha". The sounds are almost exactly what you would expect from the setting and theme, but they do the job well enough, with the effects that play when you pick up gems and coins having an almost infectious quality. The menu and UI are intuitive and simple, though I do wish the virtual button layout could be customized a little, since I frequently hit the roll button when I meant to attack, thanks to old habits. There isn't a single piece of IAP to be found, either, so what you see is what you get.

Traps n' Gemstones could probably benefit from a little more flash and razzle-dazzle, and a few bosses wouldn't hurt, but I'm not going to gripe too much when what's here is as good as it is. The game has something to offer players across a variety of skill levels, and its numerous secrets, method of scorekeeping, and the fact that it keeps track of time played makes it ripe for replays, score attacks, and speedruns. Moreover, its superb design ensures that all of those activities will prove to be enjoyable. This game sort of shattered my expectations of Donut Games, and if you give it a go, I think you'll agree they're onto something great here.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Septim

    Donut Games really branched out and tried something different and it worked. Those 5 stars are warranted in my opinion.

    • Leydz Boomshaka-Irwin

      Its nice to see them exploring new areas. They can definitely do more of these!

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  • mallouk

    This is really a very interesting game, but I am a little bit curious how come this game got a rating of 5 stars while MC5 got only 4!

    • spader623

      Because the reviewer thought the game, for what it was, was better then what modern combat was? It's not 'this game is better then that game' in terms of which they'd prefer. It's that this game is a really good metroidvania while modern combat is awesome, but it has problems that prevent it from having 5 stars... Though that's just what I think. I don't speak for anyone

    • Jake7905

      There's no conspiracy here, this is simply a better game.

      • bilboad

        Also it's not the same reviewer who reviewed MC4. It seems like some people still don't get it that the reviews on this site are written by different individuals, with different opinions and tastes, not by some TA committee which reviews all games by the exact same criteria. The OPs comment might make more sense if both reviews were written by the same person.

    • Gucciipad

      Mc5 wasn't that good perhaps

  • h_A_Z

    GOTY candidate

    • Atomos

      That's high praise. If you are serious then I have to get this.

    • rich_952000

      Couldn't agree more! And that's a spot on review btw. Beautifully designed and executed game.

  • Patricia Anaka

    I don't understand why just pausing the game and going back to the main menu resets your score to zero. That doesn't seem right.

  • shadax

    I like it, but I feel it needs a much better map system. I'm stuck at the moment and have NO idea where to go. I'm used to a map with rooms that show a door or exit point with nothing behind it, so I know I haven't been there yet. I have almost every item and this huge explored area, but I'm just running around in circles to no end. It's exhausting to have to go through the entire thing again checking which relics I can place. I actually sort of gave up with no intention on continuing play because I'm just dumb founded on what's left to do.

    Other than that, the score reset REALLY sucks. I had a high score and low battery and was panicking because I knew it would reset once my phone powered down. I had no access to power and ultimately just died to place my score, but it could have been so much better.

  • PoloBaquerizoH

    Excelent ! More games like this one please, but please quality games as equal!

  • Jake7905

    In terms of gameplay, this is much closer to Metroid. Whips aside.

  • CommanderData

    Can't believe nobody has commented on the clever pun- "Indy" game! Made me smile anyway... Great review as always Shaun, a pleasure to read :)

  • Bones00

    I came into these comments to say the same thing. Maybe the term Metroidvania is getting old. It started in '97 with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, I believe.

    • irettillib

      The term isn't getting old, this game is just far more Metroid than Castlevania, so 'metroidvania' doesn't really fit.

  • http://entrepreneurialblog.com Niclas Johansson

    MFI support?

    • nlflint

      No yet, I emailed the developers and they said MFi will be coming soon, but their highest priority at the moment is to fix some critical bugs.

  • Unfrozen

    Metroid for NES was one of my favourite games. I grew up on it and this reminds me so much of those fond memories.

  • jesse_dylan

    Why has not a single person, including the review, mentioned how the game controls? Is it fine to control with the touchscreen? On iPhone? iPad? Or are people using controllers?

    I've yet to play a game like this with the touchscreen that had decent control, so I gave up. I'd like to play this, but not if the control is lame and you need a controller to make it decent.

    • Pourquoi Tu Lis

      Left-Right with left thumb, Jump-roll-fire with the right one. Good enough (on phone, I woudn't try on a pad).. The design is very forgiving anyway, there is no pixel-close jump or fight.

      • jesse_dylan

        Great, thanks!

  • byonder

    The game controls superbly. Beat it quite quickly but loved every minute.

  • Erman Haskan

    sky pursuit?

  • Pourquoi Tu Lis

    It's not even really a metroidvania. You don't get new moves and attacks, just keys to unlock doors and access new areas. It's a plateformer with tiles to press, keys to find and non-threatening ennemies. The "secrets" aren't really rewarding the points are useless (what's inside is useless but it's still a nice warm feeling to find them). It was fun (3h to complete ?) but when it's done, it's done..

  • nreyes

    I don't particularly take lightly to people calling me stumpy.

  • http://starwars.com Rebel Corvette

    He looks like... Indiana Jones! Sue! Sue! Sue!

  • philadendron

    Cally's Caves. Ittle Dew. Two games with a female protagonist and a side-scroller feel.

  • philadendron

    I was super excited about this one but after buying it and playing it on a 6 hour flight, it's a bit of a let down. Don't get me wrong, controls and technical stuff are beyond reproach. However, I can't get excited about all the backtracking through the same boring locale. It's like if Sonic 3 took place ENTIRELY in Sandopolis zone, and you kept seeing the same parts of the level.

    Also, the whip is a pretty boring weapon, especially since it's pretty much your only weapon for a large part of the game. The enemies are mostly slow moving and the view is so zoomed out, you can't fully enjoy the thoughtful artwork.

    Good game, but not fully my cup of tea. I think it's a 4 star game, at most.

Traps n' Gemstones Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 5