Version tested: PC
The press release for Bejeweled Twist is full of lies! There is not "no doubt" that "this is the world's greatest casual videogame"; just ask the world's millions of Tetris and Peggle fans. Bejeweled Twist does not "revolutionise fun". The visual and audio effects are not "stunning". And it's incorrect to say that "virtually every aspect of Bejeweled Twist is new". It's still played on a grid filled with multi-coloured gems. The gameplay still involves matching gems of the same colour to make them disappear, thereby racking up points. There are still special gems that have different effects when matched. The visuals are pretty enough, the music is as gently hypnotic as always and the nice clinky sound effects are as nice and clinky as they've ever been.
So not many aspects of Bejeweled Twist are new.
That said, not everything in the press release is a lie. There has been one simple yet fundamental change to the gameplay, and it does put "a completely new spin" on the game. It really does mean that Bejeweled Twist can be "relaxing, challenging, exciting or incredibly strategic, depending on your mood". In the original Bejeweled, the gameplay was about switching gems with their horizontal or vertical neighbours. In Bejeweled Twist, the gameplay revolves around, well, revolving them.
Instead of clicking on a single gem, you click on a two-by-two group of four. This causes each gem to rotate one place clockwise. If this results in three or more gems of the same colour becoming lined up horizontally or vertically, they disappear - just like in old Bejeweled. But in Bejeweled Twist, you don't have to make a match with every single move. You can keep clicking and rotating gems for as long as you like without scoring any points, and never see the "No more moves" message.
At first, playing in Classic mode, it's hard to locate any challenge whatsoever. But as you progress, bomb gems start to appear. These have a numerical counter that clicks down with each move you make. To defuse them you have to match them with like-coloured gems, and this is trickier in later levels when you might see three or four bomb gems on-screen at once.
Other new gem types include locked ones, which you can't move around the grid, limiting your range of possible moves. There are also lumps of coal that can be moved but not matched, and only destroyed by flame or lightning gems. Flame gems appear when you match up four gems of the same colour, and destroy everything in the vicinity when they're matched, and lightning gems are the reward for a five-strong match, and take out full rows horizontally and vertically.
It's fun working out what all these new gems do, and how they can be used to pull off ever-longer chains. It's perfectly possible to spend hours playing with the special gems, defusing bombs as soon as they appear and not worrying about anything else. This fills up the meter on the left-hand side, and once it's full, you'll move onto the next level.
But the real depth comes from the added optional challenges. For starters, a colour-coded sequence is displayed at the bottom of the gem tube. It might run red-yellow-blue-yellow, for example. Matching four groups in that colour order, without interruption, will earn you a bonus that explodes any bombs on the screen, taking the surrounding gems with them. Achieving the sequence depends on the entire arrangement of the grid, and it's often harder than it might sound.
Meanwhile, at the top of the tube is a score multiplier meter, which is divided into sections that fill up as you match stuff with successive moves. Go all the way to 10x and you get a special fruit gem that takes out loads of others.
The point is that while you don't have to make a match every time, you want to. Or I want to anyway. Someone like my Mum, who just wants to relax and is a bit more mature and sensible about fictional reward systems which have no tangible benefits within the realm of reality, can happily ignore those bits.
There's also a selection of game modes designed to suit different playing styles even more precisely. In Zen mode, for example, there are no bombs, so you can rotate away without interruption. Blitz mode is about scoring as many points as possible within a five-minute time limit, and Challenge mode sets you specific targets like "Match eight gems in one go".
But it's Classic mode which is the most fun, and the one to opt for when you're in the mood for a good long session with real challenges. Unfortunately, the whole thing is let down by another new feature: if the counter on a bomb gem reaches zero you're forced to play a round of roulette, which could end your game altogether. The first time this happens, two of the wheel's eight sections feature bomb symbols while the rest shows gems. You click to spin the wheel and once again to stop it. If the marker stops on a bomb symbol, the bomb detonates, the grid explodes and the game is over.
The mathematical probability, of course, is that you'll survive this first round. But next time a ticker hits zero there will be more bomb sections on the wheel, and so on with each round until your chances of surviving the spin are next to none. What this means is that your final score is ultimately determined by random chance. It's not dependent on your skill in getting the bonus sequences or filling up the multiplier meter or pulling off amazing chains. You can do all that, only for an arbitrary spin to end your game. This is particularly frustrating as there's no quest-style mode in Bejeweled Twist. If it's 'game over' you have to start all over again from level one, and go through all the tedious early levels your skill level has long since surpassed.
It seems the idea is to force you to make decisions - do you keep pursuing that 9x multiplier, hoping the bomb gems will fall naturally into spaces where you can match and defuse them? Or do you take the safe option and defuse the bombs as soon as possible, even if that means making non-matching moves and letting your multiplier drop back to zero? That's an interesting game mechanic, but it doesn't make up for losing unfairly because of random chance.
It's such a shame because otherwise there is much to recommend Bejeweled Twist. It might be fundamentally similar to the previous games in many ways, but it's also different. The rotating mechanic changes the pace of the game entirely. The ability to make a move without making a match adds a significant amout of depth and strategy, as do the optional bonus challenges.
Despite the silly roulette wheel thing, it's still addictive. I've played it for hours. The other night I was sitting opposite someone and I realised instead of listening to what they were saying, I was wondering what would happen if I rotated their facial features clockwise. And yes, I've been going to sleep at night playing the game in my head. These are all signs of a good puzzler. But thanks to that daft roulette wheel, Bejeweled Twist stops just short of being great.
7 / 10