Even before the Wii, "FarmVille" and "Mafia Wars," PopCap was drawing non-gamers to the medium in droves thanks to a little franchise called "Bejeweled." A simple, elegant block-matching game, it captured the easy-to-learn, hard-to-master creedo perfectly, offering up bite-sized gameplay sessions on just about every platform on the planet. "Bejeweled 2" threw in some new modes and power blocks, adding to the complexity and strategy. The biggest Bejeweled success, though, came in the form of "Bejeweled Blitz," a Facebook game with weekly leaderboards, thus fueling intense friend vs. friend grudge matches. PopCap is now continuing the franchise with "Bejeweled 3," but has the match-3 well run dry?
The core of "Bejeweled 3" is identical to that of "Bejeweled 2." You're still matching like-shaped gems in 3s, 4s and 5s, causing new gems to fall from the sky, taking their place. The same power blocks return, as well, so much of your strategy remains unaffected.
What "Bejeweled 3" brings to the table are considerably more gameplay modes which act as variants on the core gem-matching tenets. There are eight main modes in all, each of which has its own play style and pace.
Variety Is The Spice Of Bejeweled 3
While most Bejeweled fans would probably settle for just two modes, Timed and Classic, "Bejeweled 3" offers up eight. Those two modes are included, certainly, but also thrown into the mix are strange blends of Bejeweled and Poker, or Bejeweled and, well, "Dig Dug." None of the modes are a total bust, but some are much more enjoyable than others.
Take Diamond Mine, for example. Creating gem matches at the bottom of the screen causes you to dig into the earth below the board, excavating gold and treasure to boost your points total. Reaching certain depth limits grants you an extra 30 seconds to play with, so it eventually becomes a mad cash grab as you try to create combos at the bottom of your stack.
Another interesting one is Poker. Here you're asked to make 5 matches, which creates a poker hand out of the gems you match. So, for example, if you match red gems twice and purple gems three times, you get a full house, which yields a ton of points. Strategy comes into play when skulls appear, blocking out certain poker hands for that round. A skull on a pair means that you better have more than that in your hand, otherwise you risk a Game Over.
I could go through all of them, but suffice it to say that there's plenty for the Timed and Classic crowds to enjoy.
Take A Deep Breath
"Bejeweled 3" is interesting because half of the game's modes are intense, time-based affairs, while the other half are untimed and strategic. If you're looking to kick back, untimed is the way to go. If you're looking to kick back and take a break from consciousness, though, there's Zen Mode. Like in "Bejeweled 2," Zen Mode has no way to lose. You just keep playing for as long as you want.
This is pretty relaxing on its own, but PopCap went and added even more relaxation features. You can turn on nature sounds, for example. Or you can opt for a breath modulator which helps you know when you breath in and out. For those really looking to bliss out, there are binaural beats, which have been shown to increase relaxation in some studies. It might sound silly, but I spent 10 minutes playing Zen mode in my office with the lights off and my headphones up and I actually felt pretty damn relaxed. Sure, that might be psychosomatic, but if it works, who cares?
A Solo Experience
The most disappointing aspect of "Bejeweled 3" is that it's a strictly solo, offline experience. There seems to be no way to compare scores with other friends, which was one of the big reasons "Bejeweled Blitz" was a success. No Facebook Connect, no nothing. You're really just trying to beat yourself, and after a while, the drive for that wears off. The game offers achievement-like badges, as well, but those too are meaningless if you can't show them off to people.
"Bejeweled 3" is far from a revolution for the franchise, so if you're match-3'd out, you should probably stay away. Fans who dropped hundreds of hours on "Bejeweled 2," however, will no doubt enjoy some, if not all, of the clever new game modes. Just know that you'll have to compare your friends scores by telegraph, as "Bejeweled 3" has no online features.