Bejeweled 3 Review (XBLA)
After spending almost a year exclusively on the PC gaming front, PopCap Games pulled a surprise swerve this week by releasing Bejeweled 3 for Xbox Live Arcade with very little fanfare. Maybe they were going for the “surprise!” vibe, or they wanted to push the game out before the majority of winter hits came to the system. Either way, we’re happy to see it, and though it may not be a gigantic leap forward in innovation, those familiar with – and appreciative of – the series won’t mind forking over 1200 Microsoft points for it.
The rules are simple. You’re given a grid, and your job is to match up three or more like-colored gems in a row to eliminate them from a playfield, either horizontally or vertically. The more gems you get, the more opportunities you have to get special gems, such as “star” ones that can eliminate all other gems in the row upon activation, or power gems that detonate all surrounding gems when they’re set off. You can set up some pretty sweet combos with these gems, and if you’re good enough, you’ll also score some cool elimination cubes that take out every like-colored gem on the board with one huge electrical burst.
The Classic mode hasn’t really changed any, it’s just a matter of getting as high of a score as possible before you run out of moves. However, the other modes that you unlock in Bejeweled 3 do make quite a difference. The weakest of the bunch is Zen Mode, which is essentially a peace-minded endless mode where your goal is to simply relax. It gets old after just a few minutes, even with the custom relaxation techniques, such as being told how to breathe (as if I've forgotten how...) and ambient background noises.
Other modes fare much better, including the ground-digging Diamond Mine, the cool Butterflies game where you have to “free” them from the board before they’re eaten by a spider, and a Quest mode where you unlock artifacts by completing certain challenges. All of these have something to offer, and though it won’t take you long to unlock them all, they offer enough diversity to keep you coming back, even after you’ve unlocked the Achievements.
What’s more, the XBLA version has the benefit of online leaderboards, something that was missing from the original game. You can easily see how you fare against not only your friends, but also worldwide leaderboards, leaving you plenty of room to run for the first place spot. Good luck – some of these guys are pretty damn good.
The gameplay is simple in nature, with you highlighting a gem and then shifting it in the direction you want to swap it to, but it grows addictive over time. What’s supposed to be a 15-minute session can easily grow into an hour if you’re not careful. The fact you can unlock collectible badges on top of the Achievements help add to the replay value.
Bejeweled 3’s appearance doesn’t differ enough from Bejeweled 2 to be considered amazing. The new screen transition animations are pretty nifty, but other than that, you’ve got your same basic grid and stoic worldly locales sitting in the backgrounds. That worked well in the last game, so we’ve got no real room to complain about that. The music is relaxing and soothing, with the kind of stuff you’d probably hear in a European spa somewhere. You can easily substitute it with your own soundtrack if you feel the need.
The game is a bit pricey, especially compared to the cheap rate that Bejeweled 2 goes for. However, as far as XBLA puzzle games go, it sits right at the top of the pile alongside the other PopCap greats, such as Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies. Its addictive nature is hard to deny, and the various modes you can unlock – along with the online leaderboards – make it worth the investment. Besides, it’s Bejeweled. As if you’ll deny it.