Wot I Think: Bejeweled 3

By John Walker on December 10th, 2010 at 2:09 pm.

The grandoise presentation is half the charm.

I would like to see the genre renamed please. “Match-3-or-more”. Matching just 3 is for loser wimps. I’m all about matching 5. The great-granddaddy of this ill-named puzzle favourite is Bejeweled, and PopCap have just released its third (well, nine hundred and seventeenth) incarnation, simply called Bejeweled 3. So has dragging gems into same-coloured lines changed dramatically enough to warrant yet another game? Here’s Wot I Think.

Er, yes actually.

Aside from the new modes of play, the array of new minigames, and the utterly bonkers woo-nonsense of Zen mode, there is one tweak that completely revolutionises Bejeweled, changing it from casual game of the lunchtime bored to something bordering on an arcade game. You can take your next turn before the last has finished.

So once more you have an 8×8 grid of coloured jewels. (A clue about this game: loading it up to remind myself of the dimensions, I’m now fighting the urge to play some more.) By swapping with adjacent gems you align rows or columns of three or more, causing them to disappear, with new gems falling from above to fill in the space. Do that a lot.

Then of course there’s all the various bonuses – although PopCap have been very restrained in their numbers. Connect a row of four and you’ll create a gem that explodes when removed, removing a few from around it. Connect a row of five and you’ll get a gem that takes out all of a particular colour. Then do something slightly more complicated involving two lines at once and you’ll get gems that’ll take out their row and column entirely. (Okay, I admit I went back and played a bit more to get those correct.)

What’s always upset me about Bejeweled before is where it fell short of what I’d argue is the best match-3 ever, Zoo Keeper: it wouldn’t let you make another line of gems until it had finished faffing around with animations and dropping in new gems elsewhere on the board. And that’s changed. Finally Bejeweled can be played at pace, and it’s a small change that significantly ups the fun of playing. It means it can be played fast. If you’re good, you can now play a lot better than someone who’s less so.

So the new modes. You’ve got Classic, which offers you the main game, letting you progress through levels, aiming for a high score.

There’s Lightning, which gives you one minute to get as high a score as possible. However, there’s a twist – you can collect gems that offer bonus seconds. Once your time is up their total will be added as bonus time, and this repeats as often as you’re able to gather new seconds.

Quest mode puts together a bunch of minigames based on the theme, with particular challenges to complete. There’s five sections, each with eight games. But, well, there’s no quest at all. Which is a giant shame. This could have been a fun chance to put in a mini Puzzle Quest – something PopCap has yet to try. But absolutely nothing of that nature is in there. Complete all 40 challenges and you get an achievement, and a gold wreath around the menu option. Huh.

You’ve also got some sub-modes, which unlock as you play, and you can find them for yourself. But special mention to the splendid Poker mode, which sort of combines basic poker rules with Yahtzee, letting you create five-card hands based on which gems you clear, trying to get those worth the most points. It’s particularly engaging.

And then, well then there’s Zen mode. It’s as if they’d hired Uri Geller, Paul McKenna and “Dr” Gillian McKeith (if you are what you eat, she must have eaten an awful lot of idiot) to create them a game mode. (Please bear in mind this article is entitled “Wot I Think – skip ahead six paragraphs if you don’t want to read my laughing at this rubbish.)

It’s basically a lot of fluff to justify a more relaxed version of the game. So you can put rainforest sounds in the background. Or rain. I like the rain.

Then it helps you to modulate your breathing. Which is nice enough, although personally the moment I start being conscious about my breathing I only get incredibly stressed that I’ll forget to and drop down dead. It even has the noise of someone else’s breathing by which to time yourself, but this only gives the effect that you’re being permanently called by a heavy breathing pervert, and is pretty sinister. (Even more creepy was my switching it off after the game took a breath in, and worrying that I might kill it.)

Then you can add Mantras. These consist of positive thinking, prosperity, quitting bad habits, self confidence, or weight loss. Or just general positive statements about how lovely you are. So along you can chant, presumably between deep breaths, “I love courageously”, or “I accept that things come to an end.” Under Weight Loss it first offered me, “My body is perfect right now.” Which isn’t exactly the most inspiring of statements to convince me to shed the pounds. And then just some nonsense, “As I change my thoughts, my body changes.” But no matter how furiously I try to think that I’m a cat, I remain disappointingly human-shaped. It also decides metaphysical debate by letting me know that “I’m more than my body or brain.” Perhaps I’m part post box. Maybe a little bit of aeroplane. I can’t help thinking its saying, “Lose some weight, fatso, or you’ll die,” would be a lot more effective. (Of course, this isn’t the first time PopCap have been ridiculous about losing weight.)

Then there’s Binaural Beats. Sounding to me like complete claptrap, and certainly having attracted a lot of woo rubbish, it does seem there’s some evidence to support these left ear/right ear sounds causing relaxation. However, the game’s warning that they can cause hallucinations and so on is utter nonsense.

However, any hope of this being sensible is lost when you pick “Chakra Circle”, which will, it informs, “help you align your auras and improve overall energy flow.” What this “energy” is it fails to explain. And I keep my auras very neatly aligned, thankyouverymuch. Never mind that Chakra Circle, Chill Cycle, Euphoria, Lucid Dream, Meditation, Pain Suppressor, and Sleepy Time are all absolutely identical.

But, hilariously, despite all this flim-flam, the game still explodes and electrocutes and fizzes and pops just as it does in any other mode, making a mockery of any notion of relaxation.

But that silliness aside, there’s one pretty big issue with what’s otherwise a really elegant, splendidly presented, and extremely slick puzzle game. It’s the way it game overs.

While Zen mode actually offers an endless game, the main Original mode will end your game once you have a grid with no more possible matches. Which is something that’s absolutely not your fault. Certainly you can sometimes make a move that will ensure another, but often there’s only one left on the grid, and if it doesn’t drop down anything else that matches, it has nothing to do with you. So you’re chasing a high score until an arbitrary barrier drops down between you and the game. It’s essentially Buckaroo.

I wish there could be a mode of the game where you at least get a couple of chances for the grid to rearrange (as with PopCap’s Chuzzle), or a timed mode where you’re racing against a counting down clock for each level. Let that clock be tougher to beat with each level progression. Essentially, let it be Zoo Keeper, I suppose. It seems such an obvious mode to include, its absence is disappointing. Then high scores would be at least heavily weighted in favour of skill.

That aside, this is a splendid puzzle game. It raises Bejeweled to the high standards I expect of PopCap games, where Bejeweled Twist fell so very short. It really is tremendous.

, , , , , .

37 Comments »

  1. BooleanBob says:

    John plays the classic ‘this game’s so addicitive I’ve been playing it instead of writing this review!’ gambit.

    Is this aura aligning business the kind of Silliness that Gillam et al would approve of?

  2. Premium User Badge

    Devenger says:

    One of the reasons that Blitz (on Facebook) really grabbed me is that is prevents the board from having no valid moves left, and what’s more does it in a tactically significant way – since it is only changing the gems in so many spaces (those where the gems you destroyed used to be, and everything in the respective columns above those spaces), if you knew there was only one valid move, you could also know there’s a limited zone on the board that a new valid move must appear in. Thus exhausting the board of moves and playing close to the top of the board allowed you to play very rapidly indeed, because you only had to scan a smaller area of the board after each move to find a new move. (But it also reduced your chances of causing chain reactions, since less gems are moving each time you make a move.)

    This was much more interesting than the old Bejeweled timed mode which recreated the entire board whenever you exhausted the entire gem field of moves, and enormously less frustrating than losing because the game threw you the wrong gems, as you say.

    Bejeweled 3 is thus veeeery tempting, for getting a glitztier Blitz-like mode, as well as everything else.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Bejeweled really shines for this algorithm which allows you to go on. It really tries to give you always something for you to not get blocked.

      However, in the fast modes like blitz or lightning, you are not in a good moment if the grid has only this method to get matches, because it’s slow, and only the next falling gems will allow you to make a match. In such cases, you should restart most of the time, because even if it manages to reach lower rows with this system, it will take a long time of low score.

      That said, this algorithm is really visible and helping you with important objectives. In butterfly mode, or in lightning, it is really trying to give you gems to match the butterflies or the time gems, to minimize frustration.

    • jonfitt says:

      Bejeweled really shines for this algorithm which allows you to go on. It really tries to give you always something for you to not get blocked.

      Has anyone from Popcap ever come out and said there is an algorithm?

      I suspect that might be more of this:
      http://www.problemgambling.ca/EN/ResourcesForProfessionals/Pages/WhyWeSeePatternsinSequencesofRandomEvents.aspx

      Or maybe they copied the devious Ruskie algorithm that prevented long Tetris blocks when you needed them, and turned it to good?
      http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1924722

    • Gnoupi says:

      It’s not random. Try it for yourself, you will understand the point. If it was random and not on purpose, it would be possible to make a “no more moves”. And this is not possible.

  3. Martin Coxall says:

    It seems to me that this has learned a few tricks from Bejeweled Blitz, but there are a great deal many of the other things John talks about it hasn’t.

    So maybe Bejeweled Blitz is the really the Bejeweled you’re looking for?

    The download-o-version of it is a many splendour’d thing.

  4. Tom OBedlam says:

    Also worth mentioning is the bizarre use of what appears to be the Dungeon Keeper voice actor. “LEVEL COMPLETE” “AWESOME”

  5. Red Avatar says:

    “there is one tweak that completely revolutionises Bejeweled, changing it from casual game of the lunchtime bored to something bordering on an arcade game. You can take your next turn before the last has finished.”

    I’m confused, John. Didn’t it do this before? Other jewel games have been doing this for at least 4 years. My favorite Jewel clone always did this and I can’t imagine a jewel game which doesn’t let you do this anymore now …

    • P373R says:

      I thing the very first game with this feature was “The Treasures Of Montezuma” a clone but actually better then Bejeweled 2 (for me)

    • dadioflex says:

      I <3 Treasures of Montezuma. Best 59p I ever spent. First game I bought for my iPod Touch and I've wasted days on it since. When the clock is counting down and you've got 15 seconds to grab five jewels and you start throwing down combinations waiting for a couple of reds or some dynamite to clear out a moribund board…. ahhh… sigh. I am such a casual gamer these days.

  6. Delusibeta says:

    Bleh, Zoo Keeper. I hated it. The music seemed to be a blatant attempt to hypnotize, and in general I’m not a great fan of the Bejeweled school of match-3. Now, Meteos, on the other hand…

    • DrGonzo says:

      Yeah Meteos really was great. But I also loved Zoo Keeper on the DS. I love the way it constantly tells you your completely at the game, even when you’ve completed a level.

  7. We Fly Spitfires says:

    Is it available for the iPhone?

    • jonfitt says:

      Good question.

      Having played Bejeweled, Peggle, and PvZ on both platforms, I can say that the iPhone is the perfect place for Popcap games.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I must have crap fingers. I found the iPhone and DS versions of these games to be always inferior. I find myself accidentally moving the wrong blocks all the time in them, but being able to play them on the train is a huge advantage.

  8. Dave says:

    I always thought of the original Bejeweled in untimed mode as “meditative” anyway, for whatever that means. I’d think adding a bunch of silly claptrap to that would make it less useful for actually relaxing.

  9. bigblackjesus says:

    For me the best mode is the Diamond Mine which is completely omitted from the review.

  10. TJF588 says:

    Pitch in another voice for Bejeweled Blitz. And as Martin COxall sez, the downloadable version is so brootiful, not to mention that it’s not timed, as the other Bejeweled demos are, but limited to ten plays a day. And then you can turn right around and keep playing (music-exemptedly, sadly) on Facebook, keeping your status betwixt the two.

  11. Tom says:

    Its worth noting all the features of Zen mode can be turned on/off at will if you just want the endless experience.

    Popcap said a lot of feedback from users stated the endless play mode was popular as a form of relaxing or unwinding so they went further and added many popular and completely optional relaxation aids to it. Even they said they weren’t sure how well these techniqueses worked (particularly the more obscure ones like binaural beats) but they added them because a lot of people in the causal crowd who are in to that sort of stuff would appreciate the option which I think is pretty smart going. A lot of people play games to relax and a lot of games are relaxing (Braid!) but I haven’t heard of many developers actively including medical (ok but unproven) techniques designed to relax players aside from pleasent music and graphics etc and I for one would be interested to see if people prone to stress find the mode beneficial.

    I know a lot of it is probably hokum but I did appreciate some features of the Zen mode, particularly the breathing thing and the relaxing music. After being exposed to these techniques recently after dealing with depression I feel that while not for everyone there is something to be said for the developer trying to be forward thinking here. I don’t know how well things like the positive mantras would work in a game environment but after being exposed to that type of therapy and seeing some positive benefit in other contexts I think it is an interesting addition.

    Just in case people think I’m some kind of hippy I think binaural beats are bollocks.

    • Wulf says:

      They’re not exactly though, but the thing is is that we don’t understand the variable nature of them because we don’t really understand the human brain yet, the human brain can be a very variable thing, and no two can be quite exactly the same, and you even get the off-the-wall ones like mine that make neurologists shit a brick, leaving you worried about how long it’s going to be until your brain explodes from swelling. But I digress.

      Again, hypnosis and so many other things fall into this category. There probably is something there, and it’s even going to work for some people but not for others, and we’re not going to understand the variable nature of it for a long, long time to come. Again, there’s lucid dreaming, some people can do this exceedingly well to the point where it’s actually a little scary, and some people can’t even actually dream at all (I feel sorry for them).

      There are so many variable elements to the human brain that to call anything bullshit that seems to get some results seems to be a little silly to me. But then, the Earth is flat, a cube that the sun revolves around, and tectonic plates never shift because that would be silly. Disclaimer: IRONY. The point is is that fringe Science actually tends to frequently figure things out first, then it takes decades for everyone else to catch up.

    • Tom says:

      I like the way you think my man.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Well said. I think there could be something there. Though they most definitely haven’t figured anything out yet. In the case of binaural beats they are just selling something over the internet with no proof it works, which I think is quite dodgy. But I realise that’s not what you were talking about really.

  12. Premium User Badge

    The Sombrero Kid says:

    wow i can’t believe how many things they get wrong that zoo keeper got right! could it be that they never played zoo keeper? :S i’ve got an itch to make a match 3 game properly now.

  13. broklynite says:

    a timed mode where you’re racing against a counting down clock for each level. Let that clock be tougher to beat with each level progression.

    Uh…they have that. It’s the action mode, I think, in Bejeweled 2 (on the IPhone anyway)

  14. Urthman says:

    This could have been a fun chance to put in a mini Puzzle Quest – something PopCap has yet to try.

    They already did Gyromancer with Square Enix.

  15. Wulf says:

    It’s absolutely lovely, but I kind of expected that. I like PopCap’s stuff.

    What annoys me though is that they never include a gallery/jukebox dealy, and why? The backgrounds of Bejeweled 3 can be beautiful, inspiring things, and yet you only catch mere glimpses of some parts of them. I’d truly love for their games to have a moving gallery, where you can view these in all their majesty. And a jukebox? I love chiptunes. Especially the old home computer sort, and PopCap tends to deal exclusively in this for the music of their Bejeweled games.

    in fact, I’d be exceedingly happy if they’d just include their assets as HD movie/audio files in the directory of their game. They have with some of the assets, but the backgrounds and music are missing. I could be being amazingly stupid here though and missing something, this is entirely all too possible.

    But I digress, John said wonderful things about the game, I can’t really add to that, so I thought I’d chime in with my sole criticism. If anyone from PopCap is listening, your Bejeweled games need a gallery and jukebox. Seriously, no kidding. It’s a necessity, a must have, it’s entirely essential.

  16. Daave says:

    I just couldn’t play puzzle quest 2 after the original because it would no longer let you drag and drop to match, but instead had to click on each gem. This reduction in pace meant I just couldn’t play it despite loving the first. I expect this is similar to how being able to make your next move quickly makes the game a lot more fun.

    • Cam says:

      That’s been fixed in the first patch (Steam version), dunno if it filtered through to the other versions – politics prevent you from doing good sometimes.. I am still annoyed that fixes to the menus for the gamepad on the pc version(s) never happened.. And I would love to go back and actually make the multiplayer menus consistent with the singleplayer :/

  17. the blueprint project says:

    i love this site full of great content

  18. Michael says:

    Why does nobody remember Tetris Attack (and more recently Planet Puzzle League on the DS)?
    That game is amazing. I can’t bring myself to play any other match 3 anymore.

  19. Registry Booster 2010 says:

    I’ve seen progression in every post. Your newer posts are simply wonderful compared to your posts in the past. Keep up the good work!

  20. boerik says:

    “WOT” (you fucking circusclowns….) I want to say is..
    BOOHOOO THEY TRIED TO MAKE A MODE FOR RELAXATION QQ I’M TEAR EYED JOHNNY BOY I CAN’T RELAX WITH FLASHING LIGHTS AND BINAURAL RUBBISH, I NEED GAMES TO GIVE ME EVIDENCE FOR RELAXATION BECAUSE I HAVE PROBLEMS WITH INSECURITIES AND OTHER BRAINFUNCTIONS, HI IM JOHN QQ WALKER.
    Fucking clowns….

  21. Thants says:

    You know, I’ve seen people whose comments have been eaten by the spam filter, yet it lets through the most obvious possible spam like this! Madness!

  22. BonusWavePilot says:

    I wonder why its always the shoe-flogging spambots that manage to post here… Perhaps the shoe spam industry has better captcha defeaters? Maybe the shoebots have evolved to the point where they like games journalism… I’ve heard they have souls.

    :D