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Review: Bejeweled Stars

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Stars don't have arms to reach for you

It's hard to believe that PopCap Games is turning 16 years old. Once recognized as the seminal "casual games" company with hits like Feeding Frenzy and Dynomite, it was acquired by EA in 2011 and hasn't been the same since. But unlike a lot of other indie acquisitions, this move hasn't been all bad. The studio exited its comfort zone and shifted into bigger-budget projects like the Garden Warfare series, which seems to have worked out for it.

Bejeweled Stars still has some of that old-school PopCap glory, but it's obfuscated by EA's need to force free-to-play into everything it can.

Bejeweled Stars (Android, iOS [reviewed on an iPhone 6])
Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: May 10, 2016
MSRP: Free

Bejeweled Stars, indeed, is Bejeweled, but amped up a notch. With the help of an adorable cat named Felis, it's your task to reassemble constellations using the magical power of the cosmic gems. Okay, it's not actually as cool as it sounds, but at least they tried.

The real power of Stars is that it remains addicting even to this day. Using a level-based progression system, every stage presents the player with a goal, which is often multi-tiered in nature. Match four explosive gems before your move counter runs out. Clear out crystal pieces, which take multiple matches to destroy. That sort of thing. But somehow, PopCap managed to keep things interesting even as I progressed through an entire afternoon session, adding in new concepts like butterflies -- which need to be matched before they reach the top -- to keep me playing.

Most of it has been seen before, but the sheer open-ended nature of Stars allows these ideas to breathe. Players can utilize multiple strategies to clear goals, and some of them are really out of the box. Sure you can use the tried-and-true "match three" approach and mostly succeed, but with a multitude of different power-ups that can be crafted through square matches, "T" shapes, and four-of-a-kind (all of which create new power-ups on the board), the game is pretty fair in giving you the tools you need to win. This is in spite of that pesky "free" price tag you may have noticed above, but the hand of EA is strong, and creeps up on you before you know it.

Rather than create powers in a stage with skill by matching them manually, you can also craft power-ups in the "lab." At first it doesn't seem all that bad -- specially marked jewels earned through normal gameplay can be transmuted into these abilities, giving off the air of fairness to it. But then you realize that even if you have enough currency, you have to wait a specified amount of time (usually 30 minutes or more) until the power-up is ready. First red flag.

While I found these to be ancillary to the core of the game, more and more crept in. Chests appear, which grant you access to random items, provided that you craft a key to open them (or wait a few hours instead). EA also couldn't resist cramming in a Facebook connect option, which also grants you extra items. Thankfully, most of the funnels in the game primarily just contribute towards optional power-ups and charms, which can be used to customize your avatar for the tacked-on social features.

But the big holdup is energy. Now, there's a caveat -- unlike Pokémon Shuffle, which takes a heart (one play) from users win or lose, Stars only takes one if you lose. Does it make up for the fact that the scheme is even in there in the first place, and that it ushers people who aren't adept at puzzle games to pay to keep playing? No. But personally, seven hours in, I didn't find it to be nearly as daunting as other games. Though obviously, I'd prefer to "buy out" of this system entirely.

Bejeweled Stars is a fantastic example of what the developer is capable of, and it is only held back by its insistence to monetize users at every turn. I can only hope that one day, when the dust settles in the never-ending quest for money in the free-to-play arena, after Zynga's office building is a distant memory, that PopCap will go back to a premium model for its puzzle games.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game downloaded for free.]

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Bejeweled Stars reviewed by Chris Carter

6

ALL RIGHT

Slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy it a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.
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Chris Carter
Chris CarterReviews Director, Co-EIC   gamer profile

Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step, make an account, and start blogging in January of 2009. Now, he's staff! ------------------- T... more + disclosures


 


 


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