Prior to my sit down with Bejeweled 3, I’d only ever dabbled in this series, passing some time with one of the earlier iterations on my PC (for free, as I recall). I won’t say that playing this Xbox Live version overcame me with joyous nostalgia. If I’m being honest, what came to me were faint memories of just another puzzle game involving matching coloured gems (wait, this isn’t Columns?) – and here I was, many years later revisiting essentially a souped up retread of that original comfortable, but unremarkable, experience.
If I sound like you, you’d do well to read on. If not – if you have an unhealthy passion for all things Bejeweled, then by all means, skip this review and get the game now. This second official sequel does its Bejeweled thing better, and looks better doing it, than any release the franchise has seen so far. That’s all the endorsement you should need.
And for the rest of us, who need some background and some convincing, to wit: puzzle games are like board games – there’s only so much you can do while spawning new releases. For all the differently-themed Monopoly packages out there, we’re still playing Monopoly. All PopCap could do to evolve the experience was to polish the presentation, and tack on enough variations of the main game to entice us to dive in. Fortunately, they’ve done both fairly well here. The results aren’t spectacular, as they were with EA’s exquisitely refined Tetris, but it’s about as good a job as can be expected.
The central idea remains the same: swap adjacent coloured gems to create vertical or horizontal rows of at least three in a tight 8 x 8 well. Matches clear gems and clear the way for new pieces to fall. In fortuitous circumstances, the new gems which descend from heaven to take the place of their fallen comrades, drop in such a way as to create further matches. These cascades are the Bejeweled gamer’s dream come true. Creating matches fills a bar at the bottom, and once it’s maxed out, you’ve beaten the level. Should the new pieces run out before the bar is full, your game is over.
Initially, beating levels is easy – the experience isn’t timed and it will seem as if any allowable swaps will serve your purpose. Of course, deeper into the game, you’ll find that you’ve got to do more than make rudimentary matches of three to stay alive. Fours and fives, and T’s, L’s and +’s, not only take more gems off the screen and earn more points, but they unlock special gems, like the Star gem (which clears everything in its vertical and horizontal path when matched). The earning and prudent usage of special gems then, are the key to Bejeweled mastery.
The formula is admittedly very addictive – fans would say, as addictive as it ever was on your PC or on your phone – but now it’s in high definition, so it’s also looks better than it ever did. There’s a definite sense of achievement making matches, and further, making early matches to effect change needed to create more important matches later on. Throw in both purposeful and accidental cascading and special-gem making explosive screen clears, and you’ll often feel like quite the puzzle game guru. And hell, sometimes, you might just deserve to feel that way. Much more often than say in, Columns, where sheer chance can make you look good with alarming regularity.
Besides the standard Bejeweled strain, PopCap have furnished four new modes of play, to go along with some mainstays. Of the variations on offer, Zen and Poker are the most interesting. Zen gives you an “endless experience” where pieces keep dropping forever and encouraging messages flash on the screen. There’s some pseudoscience at play involving modulating your breath pattern in time with aural cues, but you’ll likely dismiss it all as mumbo jumbo and simply enjoy the stress-free and relaxing prospect of playing the game knowing it won’t end, your poor play notwithstanding. Very cathartic stuff.
The Poker variation changes the way you strategize completely, as you’ll be endeavoring to match based on poker hands; three red jewel matches and two blue manifests a full house, and so on. It’s a worthy if not mind-blowing diversion. That I enjoyed the Lightning mode bears some mention as well: as the name suggests, this is Bejeweled with time constraints. It’s the polar opposite of Zen, for those who know what they’re doing and like their puzzlers frantic.
All in all, if you have even a mild respect for Bejeweled and you don’t already have access to a copy of any version, download Bejeweled 3 without delay. Personally, I can now happily count Bejeweled 3 among my mindless gaming distractions, and that’s relatively high praise. However, if you’ve already have a copy of say, Bejeweled 2 – it’s a much more difficult recommendation based solely on the strength of HD graphics and the handful of mode additions.