Bright colors, chipper music, a straightforward game mechanic with many subtle variations...and horribly addictive? Yes, it's another PopCap game--this time, the latest incarnation of perpetual favorite Bejeweled. After nine years, though, can there be anything more to add to "slide gems to form lines"? Oh, yes. Start playing Bejeweled 3 ($20, one-hour free demo) now, and you may just miss the ball dropping at midnight.
Bejeweled 3 comes six years after the last major version, Bejeweled 2. (Bejeweled Twist, released in 2008, was more of a branching-off than a direct sequel)While there have been numerous variants and platform hops in that time, Bejeweled 3 adds a bevy of new features and modes while retaining all of the classic gameplay. For anyone venturing in from an alternate world where "Hunt The Wumpus" is the cutting-edge game of choice, let me fill you in: The main goal in Bejeweled is to slide gems in a square, forming rows of 3 or more of the same color; when you do, those vanish, the gems above drop down like blocks in Tetris, and new gems fall in from above. This play is at the core of the many different forms of the game included in Bejeweled 3, but each puts a unique spin on it.
"Classic" play continues until no more legal moves are possible. "Zen" play never ends, and amuses you with scrolling "mantras" to inspire you, such fortune cookie wisdom as "You love without fear" and suchlike. "Lightning" mode is one of the new modes, a battle against a rapidly decreasing clock, with special "time gems" adding to the counter as you wipe them from the screen. The "Quest" mode is the most significant new style of play in Bejeweled 3, and it requires some description.
Each level of the quest offers you a choice of 8 different minigames to play with varying goals. Completing any four of the minigames unlocks the next level of the quest, with a mix of wholly new variant games or harder goals. For example, one of the new game styles in Bejeweled 3 is the "Butterfly" game, in which some of the gems are butterflies which rise upwards with each move, and if even one reaches the top row, it is eaten by a spider and you lose. To win, you must clear out a certain number of butterflies--fifteen at one level, then twenty-five the next. Other variants include treasure hunts, wall blasts, poker, and more. And, of course, there are any number of medals and achievements to unlock. Bejeweled 3 is not just "Bejeweled but now with more colors of gems!"; it's a whole suite of variants built on the same core gameplay concept.
My main criticism of Bejeweled 3 is that there's a very high degree of randomness. I "won" many of the challenges by sheer dumb luck, by having exactly the right gems rain down to cause a sequence of cascade explosions. I might lose one game by a huge margin, then win in a few clicks the next time. There's definitely strategy involved in many of the games, but if the timer is very short, your ability to evaluate the field and plan out multiple moves is greatly reduced, so you basically take the first move you see and hope the field shifts in your favor after that.
Anyone who enjoys Bejeweled, or who likes puzzle/matching games and somehow has never played Bejeweled before, will find this an excellent game and very content-rich for the price. For those playing the demo, with its one-hour gameplay limit, I recommend Quest mode, as this will let you sample the greatest number of variant games.