Bejeweled 3

A real gem.

Offering criticism of a Bejeweled game is a bit like a medieval peasant giving you his opinions on the Bubonic plague; PopCap's match-three classic is ready to chew through human society regardless of what people have to say about it.

Bejeweled's a force of nature. It's simple, colourful and compulsive. Because of all that, it's easy to underplay how well it's put together. And it would be easy to ignore the fact that the series' latest instalment offers a quiet range of clever variations that bring new life to the game.

Building on Bejeweled is not an easy gig. PopCap's tried tinkering with the magical formula before and been gently slapped around for it. By anyone else's standards, the sales of the polished and rather clever Twist would probably have led to champagne celebrations amongst the cubicles. For this team, however, used to selling bucketloads of games every few seconds, it seems to have been a mild disappointment.

Twist messed with the basics too much for the series' core audience so Bejeweled 3 represents something of a regrouping albeit an elegant one. PopCap's latest keeps the central game the same as it ever was, and it's as terrifyingly effective as usual.

But built around that time-honoured jewel-matching mechanic is a web of bright new ideas, spun off into a range of chunky additional modes. Bejeweled 3's cautious, but it isn't a lazy update by any means: it's much more inventive than you might have suspected.

It's not lacking in character, either. Its pink and purple tones are filled with all the bizarre trappings players have come to expect, such as wonderfully kitsch fantasy artwork in the background (the floating castles and stone ponies suggest some of the design team spent the eighties locked in a branch of Athena before freaking out, pretty thoroughly, in a moonage daydream).

3

If it were possible to trigger hallucinations by eating too much tofu, those hallucinations would probably look like this.

Then there's the Wendy Carlos Lite music, the Dr Who time-tunnel interstitials and that always-unsettling voice of encouragement, which seems to emanate from the man with the least encouraging voice in the world.

His regular chants of "Excellent", with their deep, apocalyptic rumble, could split skyscrapers in two. His interpretation of the word "Awesome" sounds like it's spoken by someone who would rather be telling you he's just eaten all your children and is moving on to your extended family.

So what's new? The core of the game is still Classic mode but there have been a handful of very slight tweaks. New special gems, like the board-blasting Supernovas, ensure that the Bejeweled arms race continues nicely, while the improvements to your ability to swap jewels while others are falling really speeds things up.

That said it's as much of a mindless pleasure as ever, even if seems and I might be getting into conspiracy theory territory here that Bejeweled 3's a bit more willing to throw the No More Moves chestnut at you than the previous games were.

This hardly matters: if anything, it makes rounds a little more tense and encourages best practice, like matching from the bottom of the screen to maximise drops. It's a nice inheritance from Blitz, perhaps.

Speaking of which, Lightning mode is the first of the three main variants - limiting the game to a very familiar single minute but throwing in time extending jewels alongside the multipliers. It's great, but without that friends-powered leaderboard, you might be better off sticking with the Facebook game where winning has a bit more kick to it.

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