Every school has that one wacky teacher that everybody loves because of how awesome he or she is. For me, that was Mr. Grenice, our keyboarding teacher. He made us watch old black and white horror movies every Halloween, was obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, and was downright hilarious. Probably the coolest thing about him, however, was that he installed the game Bejeweled 2 on everybody’s computer so that they could play that whenever they finished their work. The only reason I can type as fast as I can now is because I only had 40 minutes to type so I could play that game.
To say that PopCap Games has a monopoly on the casual gaming market would be an understatement. With epic casual games such as Plants Vs. Zombies, Bejeweled, and Peggle (which I just got out of rehab for), it’s hard to put forth the argument that these types of games aren’t meant for hardcore gamers. Plenty of “hardcore” gamers I know detest PopCap simply because they made these games, stating that these casual games are meant for single moms and divorced dads to play when they’ve given up on online dating.
But now we can all laugh in their face as Bejeweled 3, the newest addition to the series, makes its way to XBLA. At this point, I will assume about 95% of humanity has played this game in some form or another, but for those who haven’t, here’s the rundown: you’re presented with a grid that is filled with gems in fancy rows. You can move one gem at a time, either one spot horizontally or one spot vertically. Your goal is too match three or more gems of the same color, and matching four or more of the same color creates powerful gems that explode when matched.
The beauty of these games is how simple they are. Anyone can pick them up and play them, as it takes about two seconds to learn the ropes. For example, my girlfriend, who has only ever played about three video games, picked up the controller on her own and, after a few minutes, was helping me get through level after level. Although there’s no multiplayer mode that is strictly set aside for competition or co-op play, Bejeweled 3 is a game that can still be played together and is insanely fun when played in that manner. We played for about four hours before we even realized what time it was.
Although this iteration steals a few modes of play from past versions, there are also plenty of new ways to play that will keep you coming back for more. Returning is Classic Mode, where you make matches and rack up points until you simply run out of moves. There’s also Zen Mode, where you can match forever without running out of matches, and Lightning Mode, which pits you against the clock to make the most matches possible. Quest Mode lets you play different types of challenges that then unlock different types of artifacts. Although there are only 40 challenges, they’ll keep you puzzling over them for a while, as the difficulty ramps up towards the end.
Some of the new modes include Diamond Mine, Ice Storm, Poker and Butterflies, all of which fare better than the ones mentioned above. Whether you’re digging for gold and artifacts in the Diamond Mine or trying to crush ice columns in Ice Storm, you’ll constantly be having fun. All of these games also benefit from having online leaderboards, meaning you’ll constantly be trying to up your game. The background visuals, while pretty, aren’t breathtaking or anything new to Bejeweled veterans. The sounds are the same: they’re definitely there, but you won’t be looking to download the soundtrack any time soon.
Whatever mode you play, the points you earn will be put towards your rank, which goes up to level 40. There are also a handful of badges and achievements that help keep the game worth playing. Each of these are only awarded after a lot of hard work, and Bejeweled 3 expects you to sink an ungodly amount of time into it to get results. As addictive as this game is, chances are most players will sink a lot of time into it. I just bought Batman: Arkham City, and I still find plenty of time to play Bejeweled 3 too. That is a compliment of the highest order.
Of course, with everything that makes this game such a great puzzler, there are a few things that keep it from being perfect. For example, a lot of the challenges in quest mode depend on having the right gems in the right place rather than simply making matches. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but towards the last few challenges you’ll be cursing the Gem Gods as you will be bombarded with the worst set-ups possible. In Poker mode, you’ll get to the point where you’ll be lucky if you can make a pair. While digging through the Diamond Mine, all of the matches will be made at the top rather than near the ground (you have to make matches on the ground to dig for gold), and you might even go a whole round without digging up anything.
Because of this, the game’s challenge aspect feels a little off, because “more challenging” translates to “give them nothing.” In Lightning mode, you are tasked with matching certain time gems with their color so that you can have time for the next round. In the first round, you have a minute to collect as many as are given to you, and that’s easy enough. But after another round or two, the Gem Gods will simply stop dropping time gems so that you can’t increase your time at all. You get screwed after two rounds because no more time gems fall.
Also, the controls for this XBLA port just aren’t up to snuff. Bejeweled was meant to be played with a mouse, and using a control stick can cost you games. You’ll watch your time counter dwindle away as an accidental wrong switch wastes your precious time. This will happen a lot, and there’s nothing you can do but deal with it.
Despite these aggravations, Bejeweled 3 is too addictive of a game to not recommend to everyone. If you have it on the computer already, you’re not missing much with this translation, but if you’ve never even heard of PopCap Games then you’ll be doing yourself a favor by buying it. As an overall package, Bejeweled 3 has enough content to keep you playing for months and even years to come. If you feel the need for a good puzzler on your 360, then this is the game for you. PopCap can do no wrong, and Bejeweled 3 is a perfect example of how casual gaming can appeal to the more “hardcore” gamers amongst us.
This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game, which we received for review purposes.
Bejeweled 3 is another excellent release from PopCap, which sets the bar high with great replay value and addictive gameplay.