I've just done some made up maths, and by my calculations every single human being on Earth has bought Bejeweled at least twice, even though Zoo Keeper is way better. It's by far the most widely known match-3 game, and has made PopCap richer than God. Then came the rather improved Bejeweled 2. And next the wildly missing the point Bejewled Twist. Today they've announced Bejeweled 3, which they describe as "the first true sequel to [the] beloved flagship franchise in more than six years." But what are those three matching gems up to now? And might they have made the improvement that could make me take it more seriously?
"Triple the fun" they say. I don't think I could do any justice to the press release's hyperbole other than to just print it, so enjoy this:
"Beyond stunning, high-definition graphics and mellifluous music and sound effects, Bejeweled 3 is packed with completely new game experiences in addition to updated and expanded re-imaginings of the four original game modes from Bejeweled 2. Four all-new secret games including Ice Storm and Poker offer surprising new interpretations of the Bejeweled theme, while Quest mode features eleven mini-games — clever hybrids of Bejeweled game-play with other classic game mechanics — comprising 40 total quests."
(While the screenshots look identical, it seems the improved graphics are in the special effects, in the video below. So what are those new features that mean we're going to want to pay for it all over again?
- Classic: Play the most popular puzzle game of the century, with powerful new gems and new ultra-smooth gameplay
- Quest: Journey through 40 magical puzzles in this multifaceted Bejeweled challenge!
- Zen: Personalize your experience with ambient sounds and binaural beats — a revolutionary new way to relax!
- Lightning: Charge up with a heart-pounding, beat-the-clock bout of gem-blasting fun!
- Secret Games: Unlock 4 all-new games including Butterflies and Ice Storm
- Badges: Earn up to 65 badges to prove your skills
- High-definition graphics and high-fidelity audio: Bejeweled is now more dazzling than ever before!
- Ultra-smooth gameplay: Make multiple matches while new gems fall into place
That last point is absolutely essential, if you genuinely care about match-3 games. It's the reason I've always criticised the Bejeweled series as falling short of others, especially the DS's exquisite Zoo Keeper. To be able to start making other matches while the board is still cascading is critical to playing match-3 at anything like an interesting pace. Sitting around waiting for other parts of the board to change makes for a stilted and limited game. So this tweak means it could be a game in which you can seriously challenge yourself. It means I go from rolling my eyes at seeing the series milked once more, to looking forward to playing.
I am surprised that there's not been an attempt to introduce a Puzzle Quest-like narrative version of the game. Think Bookworm Adventures to Bookworm. It seems like a missed opportunity to not take it in an RPG direction, alongside the classic mode. PopCap's fantastic sense of humour and skill with character would have been well applied.
But we've got a Quest mode, which will presumably have something of that flavour in there, although I expect with a far more (and appropriately more) casual approach.
Bejeweled games are still selling at a rate of one copy every 4.3 seconds, with - they say - half a billion people having had a go. That's one in twelve people on Earth. So clearly people want more. And more they'll get. And with the newly smoothed play, I'll be one of them. The game's out on the 7th December.