It may be 30 years too late, but Traps ‘n Gemstones should have been a licensed title to accompany Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Its open exploration of a retro 2D open-world is the perfect encapsulation of a past that never was.
Leap of faith
An evil archeologist has removed ancient artifacts from their resting place and thrown the world out of balance. Taking control of an intrepid, fedora-wearing explorer with a bull-whip in his hand, you set off to recover the mystical items and return them to restore order.
Traps 'n Gemstones world has you exploring its depths looking for items and tools to make your way forward.
Your adventure begins with you completely unprepared for the challenge ahead. Descending into a labyrinth like complex your route is blocked by a cave in, so you must search for dynamite to clear the way forward. This is a two-step process, with you first having to find a whip to take out the mummies that bar your path, and then track down the elusive explosives.
The rest of the game plays out in similar fashion, as you search for items to solve puzzles and clear your way forward. This structure has a lot in common with the classic Castlevania and Metroid titles from the Nintendo Entertainment System - though here it is slightly more streamlined.
Finding a compromise
On-screen buttons guide your hero through the games various platform puzzles. Though, as a general rule, I find on-screen buttons a lazy way to interpret controls on touchscreen, here they feel like the best available way to convey the classic play style.
Other context specific controls appear on screen when needed. This allows you to easily set counterbalances, dynamite, and other collected items without having to navigate a menu.
That belongs in a museum
Visually Traps 'n Gemstones is an odd beast because, in stills, the character art looks like a mediocre license game of the 90s. The first time I saw it, I was reminded of an awful Home Alone game that came out on the SNES. Once in motion, however, it begins to come together. It still isn't fantastic, lacking the style of similar throwback games, but it works.
The sound, on the other hand, is incredible. The music and background noise that accompany your journey are pitched perfectly, but this is nothing compared to the ambient effects. In some areas the music fades to nothing, adding unexpected tension to events, while the sound underwater everything becomes distant and echo. This wonderful use of audio is among the best I have experienced this year - and elevate Traps ‘n Gemstones atmosphere.
He chose wisely
It’s almost like a brave explorer dug Traps 'n Gemstones up from inside a tomb of hidden games. Were it not for a few intelligent additions, and the fact it fits on a phone, this would have felt just as timely coming out in 1990 - and it would have been just as fantastic then as it is now.