At many times these past few weeks you could have found me in a dark room, with my face lit only by a computer screen's light. My face would be half smiling, and my eyes would be half open, stuck in a blissful state. In my glasses you'd see the reflection of colorful gems cascading down the lenses and onto my cheeks like shiny candy tears of joy. I've been playing Bejeweled 3.
The magic of match-three gameplay returns in the newest version of America's favorite time sink. There has always been something almost therapeutic in swapping two colorful gems on a board to match three, and then watching them clear to make way for more swapping possibilities. That crack-like core gameplay is still present in Bejeweled 3, but now the game has many more tricks up its sleeves to make fully sure that never reach 100 percent productivity at work again.
Bejeweled 3 (PC, Mac)
Release date: December 7, 2010
The long-awaited return of PopCap's original time waster is finally here after six long years. Well, they weren't that long. It isn't like we weren't playing other forms of Bejeweled on our phones and in our web browsers. But it's here now, all shiny and new.
This time you won't be twisting anything, mind you. It's just good old gem swapping, bringing us back to that simplicity that is key in all good puzzle games. Looking over the shoulder of someone playing Bejeweled 3, you wouldn't immediately know that they were playing a new version of the game. Aside from some nice visual upgrades, including HD graphics, the action looks the same as it always has. You'll hear no complaints from me on this, though.
What makes Bejeweled 3 different is the various game modes and minigames included. PopCap has come up with some very creative variations here, and they're all good. You start the game with four main modes. The Classic and continual Zen modes will be familiar to puzzle fans, and the new Quest mode and Lightning mode are very welcome additions.
Lightning mode is a fast-paced race against the clock, a time attack mode. You're out to clear as many gems as you can before time runs out. Time booster gems will appear on the board, and clearing them will add time to your counter, giving you a bit more time to push your score up farther. This mode kept me coming back so many times that it was about a day before I even tried the rest of the game.
Quest mode is a big blend of all the game's modes. They've taken challenges based on all the modes and made smaller quests you have to complete in order to proceed. For example, a poker quest has you trying to score 3,500 credits in ten hands. Another has you using exploding gems to break a square wall segment in the stage background. Each of these quests were carefully designed so that you just miss the mark when trying to complete them. This mode is huge, like a game within a game. There are many challenges unique to this mode that you'll uncover in your quest to restore lost relics.
Beyond these four modes, there are four more hidden modes in Bejeweled 3, each of which are unlocked after playing one of the standard modes to a set goal. One of my favorite modes is the Poker mode, which has you matching jewels to create a "hand," such as Two Pair or Full House. After playing for awhile, a skill will appear over a certain hand type, like one pair. Completing the hand with one pair with a skull marker on leaves you open for a coin toss. Flip a skull and it's game over. Poker was already a fantastic time waster. Mixing it with Bejeweled is pure evil. You'll never stop playing this mode.
Butterfiles is the prettiest new mode. Gems with wings slowly ascend the game board, working closer to a spider that will eat them at the board's top. Your goal is to clear the gems and these butterflies to save them from the spider. I love how the butterflies shake in fear as you bring them closer to the top of the board.
Another favorite of mine is Diamond Mine, which mixes digging action with gem matching. The game board sits on diggable ground. By clearing gems near the dirt, some of it is blasted away, letting you dig deeper down to find gold and treasures. Mr. Driller and Dig Dug both nod in approval.
The most stressful mode is Ice Storm. This high-action mode has water rising up in the background continually, in separated columns. You have to match gems to keep the water down. If it comes up, it will turn to ice. Then the ice gets hard and explodes. Your goal is to play as fast as you can to hold back the freeze. A puzzle game has never made me this nervous before.
In all of these modes, the game is always tracking your score and performance. You start out as a scrub, but you'll work your way up through the levels as you progress. PopCap says that there's 131 of these ranks, so you can play this game for a very long time without running out of challenge. On top of this, the game has 65 achievement badges spread across all of the modes. Again, this is a huge game.
All of these modes look and sound great in Bejeweled 3. The visuals have received a nice upgrade, with support for up to 1920 x 2000 resolution in Ultra Mode. Visually, the game is very exciting. When gems give way to their advanced form, like the exploding Flame, Star, and Supernova gems, the effects are dazzling. Chain reactions are a treat for the eyes. The background art is lush and lovely, and there are some subtle animations there to entertain you. I also love how the gems explode, blast down an tunnel, and then reassemble after each stage -- it all looks great. The sound is also fabulous this time around, as is the music, and that's something I could never really say for a Bejeweled game before. PopCap has made a very pretty game with Bejeweled 3.
What makes Bejeweled 3 so wonderful is the almost endless options of things to explore and learn. You have all of these modes to challenge you, and new strategies to find within. If you're a well-versed Bejeweled fan, you can put your chaining skills to use in many new ways to get pretty far, but there's plenty of new strategy that continually pops up. For example, in poker, clearing three or more of one color gets you a card for your hand. But making a move that creates two different matches at the same time creates a wild card to help your hand out even more. Each of the modes has more new strategies like these to dig up and place in your repertoire. To me, this is the magic of PopCap titles. They work in a depth that goes way beyond basic puzzle strategy. There's a ton of that in Bejeweled 3 for you to find.
This is a huge game that will keep puzzle occupied for a very long time with its new modes and minigames. PopCap has put a heaping helping of creativity into Bejeweled 3 to challenge both series fans and newcomers in varied, innovative ways. The range of choices within the game are wide enough that I feel like there's something there to speak to many different types of gamers. Granted, if you're not a puzzle fan, you won't find much to like here. But if you are, this is the ultimate version of Bejeweled.
The worst thing you could do is write this game off as a Bejeweled 2 rehash. Yes, they've incorporated all the features that have made Bejeweled our go-to puzzler this past decade, but it's the new modes, mini-games and strategy that will keep you coming back. It's like PopCap went out of their way to top themselves and make sure that we never fully pay attention to anything ever again.
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