First impressions: Bejeweled 3

Bejeweled 3

I just beat the Quests levels in Bejeweled 3. I think that merits a post. I picked up the world’s most popular puzzle game (500 million players!) cheaply on Xbox Arcade, having long been addicted to its Facebook and desktop Blitz incarnations. I also play its RPG-lite cousin, Puzzle Quest, and have bought Diamond Twister for at least two mobile phones. I can’t go anywhere without matching little jewels.

Bejeweled 3 feeds and nourishes my addiction. Modes of play include Zen Mode, developed with scientists to help players relax, and the Classic Mode, in which tile matches are untimed. I zipped through Quest Mode in just a couple of days. There are 40 puzzles and 11 minigames to solve, and not all of them conform to the classic Bejeweled rules of gameplay. For example, the Poker and Balance levels rely on colour matches rather than rewarding the longest chains. In the Diamond Mine, you can make hundreds of matches and end up scoring zero because you were at the wrong end of the board. Some of the modes are locked up from the beginning, so the more you play, the greater the rewards. There are also “badges” – in-game achievements – for various feats, and the display after you beat the whole Quest Mode dwarfs anything Peggle had to offer.

It is by turns frustrating and compulsive, always just enough fun to keep you playing. Even when it’s kicking your bottom it’s moreish. It’s a game that’s more about luck than tactics, and indeed tactics are counter-productive when you’re against the clock – you have to zone out to a sort of subconscious button-mashing where you’re making matches faster than you’re thinking about them. There were quite a few wails of “it’s not fair!” when the time ran out after I blasted 35 out of 36 squares on the demolition level, and did so eight times in a row. It says much that I wanted to again immediately afterwards – and then again after that.

Classic Mode has no timer, so you can spend time strategically planning your moves, though it moves through the levels at odd times (when there are still obvious moves left on the board) and then ends the games when no more moves are possible. I found this more frustrating than trying to beat the clock.

The one disappointment in Zen Mode was that it had the same chirpy arcade jingle as the regular game – though it’s possible that I haven’t found the setting to change the music yet. (I ended up switching it off and just flipping to its “rainforest sounds” bank.) A visual indicator nudges the player to breathe in and out to a certain rhythm (adjustable in its settings menu) – this is designed to help the player relax, though I found it mildly annoying. You can, of course, switch it off.

Lightning Mode is esssentially Bejeweled Blitz, so is likely to be the mode I spend most time playing: it’s just you and the clock, and while there’s an element of luck to the gameplay, provided you can get yourself into that magic twitch zone you can have a fun game without having to think about its rules.

PopCap are the masters of casual gaming, and it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying version of this game. Anyone tempted to underrate it need only try one of its many competitors to appreciate just how spot-on everything is, from the all-important sound design to the pretty colours and visual effects.

I thought I was sufficiently familiar with Bejeweled before I got this, but PopCap have proved once again that there are limitless ways to make matching three blobs exciting.

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