First things first - before we get down to the serious business of reviewing, I need to get a little something off my chest...
As frequent visitors to the site may know, we have something of a weakness for match 3 games. From Bejeweled Blitz to Jewel Quest Mysteries by way Jewel Link Chronicles, there are few things we like more than a good match 3 game - and so we'd been saving up for Bejeweled 3 for months. If anything, it was actually our most anticipated game coming to the Xbox 360, which is certainly saying something. Then B-Day arrived, and we headed straight to the Marketplace, so imagine our surprise when we saw...
1200 POINTS! More than a tenner for a downloadable match three game!? Over ten pounds for swapping some coloured gems around?! I could buy some real gems for that! What were you thinking, PopCap and/or Microsoft?!
We've since come to the conclusion that PopCap must have gone crazy with power - obviously being the king of casual games does that to you after a while. Just you wait, come Bejeweled 56 you'll be paying twelve million Microsoft Points, flogging one of your kidneys and selling our firstborn into slavery - and you will, because you couldn't live without the satisfaction gained from swapping gems around a grid. This is madness.
Ahem. So where were we? Bejeweled 3 is the third iteration of the Bejweled series of match three games. Presented with a grid filled with six different colours of gems, the basic formula's simple enough - all you need to do is two adjacent gems up, down, left or right to make lines of three or more - at which point they'll explode and disappear, giving you a handful of points. Repeat ad infinitum. If you're particularly skilled, matching four, five or even six gems will reward you with explosive, screen-destroying gems. Luckily, it's a heck of a lot more fun, and ludicrously addictive, than it sounds on paper.
Ever since the days of the first Bejeweled game, there have been a couple of different modes you can play through that add a bit of a twist to the usual swapping gems around formula - and Bejeweled 3 is no exception. In fact, hands down Bejeweled 3 wins the award for the most varied ways to spice up a simple match three game, coming with eight different modes, four of which need unlocking (although it doesn't take much to unlock them - just play each of the initial modes for about five minutes each, and hey presto you'll have all the modes).
Classic ModeThe most basic form of Bejeweled - and the one that there'd be an uproar over if it was ever abandoned. In this one, you just need to swap your gems around to make matches and gain points - and each match you make pushes the bar at the bottom of the screen further to the right, filling it up. Once it's full, you'll progress to the next level, which isn't actually all that different to the one you were on before, except that it takes more matches to fill the bar up. You'll need to think carefully about the moves you make though, or you'll get the dreaded 'No More Moves' of death from the scary digitally-voiced Bejeweled Overseer, and your game will be over.
LightningThis game mode bears more than a passing resemblance to Bejweled Blitz, giving you a minute to make as many matches as you can, racking up points as you go. But it does have one notable exception - by making matches with some special gems, you can extend your time, giving you more chance for more points. Somehow though, it doesn't quite seem to match the 'just one more go' of Bejeweled Blitz, despite being pretty much the same game...
Quest is an interesting mode - you have a series of five 'artifacts' that you need to restore to their former glory by completing eight different challenges for each. These challenges range from mini versions of the other modes - like get 3000 credits from ten hands in Poker, matching fifteen butterfly gems before they climb to the top of the screen and reach the spider, or matching gems next to dirt in order to dig for gold - and many more. 'Balance' has you trying to match the same number of red and blue gems, but you'll have to be careful not to match too many of one and not enough of the other, or else the balance will shift too far to one side and it'll be game over. 'Stratamax' tasks you with clearing a number of gems in a maximum number of moves, while 'Alchemy' has you trying to turn the whole grid gold by making matches horizontally and vertically to light up each column and row.
ZenThis mode's a weird one. It's essentially an endless mode, where you can match gems till the cows come home, set against some nice soothing background music, letting you play without having to worry about game overs, time limits or anything else - which is all fine and dandy, and not strange at all. What is unusual is PopCap's decision to include breathing exercises, accessible by a tap of RB. It's not actually that radically different though, seeing as it just alternately fills and empties the grid of a white background - presumably, you're meant to follow it filling up with breathing in, and emptying with breathing out. There's no alternate nostril breathing or anything strange.
PokerThis is probably our least favourite of the eight modes, although that's at least partially down to our uselessness when it comes to playing poker. Based on a brief stint on Full House Poker, we've come to the conclusion it's not really very much like Poker at all, thankfully - all you have to do is create 'Poker Hands' by matching gems across five different 'cards' in your hand, with each set of gems you match counting as you playing one of your cards. Basically, you just need to try to make as many of your matches using the same colour gem as possible to get the best hands, and therefore the most points. In order from best to worst:
- Flush - if each of your five matches are the same colour, you get a Flush
- Four of a Kind - having four of your five matches in the same colour gets you this
- Full House - two of your matches are one colour, and your remaining three are a different colour
- 3 of a Kind - three of your matches are the same colour, and the other two matches are random ones
- 2 Pair - two sets of two matches of different colours, plus a random extra one
- Spectrum - each of your matches is a different colour, giving you a Spectrum of five of the six different Bejeweled gems
- Pair - making two matches of gems that are the same colour gets you a Pair
Ice StormLike a more sparkly, gem-orientated game of spinning plates, Ice Storm has you making matches in an effort to keep the rising columns of ice down at the bottom of the screen where they belong. As the ice columns make their way up the grid, you need to smack them down by making matches around them - vertical matches made in the same column as the ice shatter it completely, keeping that column free from ice for a short time, whereas horizontal matches that inevitably spread over a couple of columns only manage to knock the ice down a few floors. You'll have to keep your eye on the entire grid too, as once the ice creeps up to the top, it solidifies (although you can still move the gems around), and when all the ice columns reach the top, the entire grid freezes over, and it's game over.
Diamond MineDid you know that Diamond Mine was the original name for Bejeweled? This mode sees you working against the clock to dig your way down through the ground, collecting gold and treasure as you go. But how do you mine for stuff when the poor little Bejeweled gems have no arms to hold pick-axes? By making matches next to the patches of dirt that have been scattered around the grid, of course - after you clear each screen of dirt, you get a nice boost to your time, and get another level to clear of dirt. Things get harder as you go along though, because some ground needs you to match gems next to it multiple times to clear it, and some can only be cleared by explosions from the gems you get after matching four or more of the same colour.
Gem-matching is soooo last year - now people want to match butterflies instead! This final mode combines the best of both worlds by having little butterflies, that actually look more like winged gems really, work their way up from the bottom of the screen to the top, where a hungry, hungry spider awaits. You need to prevent them from being eaten by the spider by matching them with some gems of the same colour as themselves - but there's a catch. With every subsequent move you make, the butterflies fly one row up the grid - so you'll need to match each one within eight moves, and while it starts of tamely enough, it soon gets rather difficult as you end up with hoards of butterflies. You can make matches underneath them though, causing them to drop down a bit, buying you a bit more time.
While the previous entry in the Bejeweled series, Bejeweled 2, was known for being rather hard in terms of achievements - if you managed to get more than 10 gamerpoints on it, you were some sort of God - either that, or you had far too much time on your hands and had actually done the 280 levels of Endless Mode. PopCap do seemed to have listened this time round, making the whole game at least start out a lot easier than before, but they do seem to have gone from one extreme to the other - I'd unlocked the four other modes and got more than half of the achievements in just over an hour.
In fact, eleven out of the twelve achievements can be got rather quickly, just by playing through the various modes, without really 'aiming' to unlock them - although the final one, worth 75G, involves getting each of the fifteen 'common' Bejeweled Badges up to gold standard. These badges are like a second layer of achievements, and while the fifteen 'common' ones each have bronze, silver, gold and platinum levels to them, there's also five 'elite' ones that are supposed to be much more complicated. The common badges are for things like scoring so many points in certain modes, getting a number of flushes in Poker or rescuing a number of butterflies, whereas the Elite badges are for more unusual and challenging feats, like creating a Supernova gem by matching six gems at once (only possible by very lucky falling), reaching level 10 in Classic Mode or matching two Hypercubes together.
While Bejeweled 3 is a fun match three game, with much more varied modes than it's predecessor, it's a bit upsetting that it costs nearly twice as much as it should - and we're getting a bit tired of each new instalment costing more than it should. Proving we have more willpower than we thought we did, if we hadn't had a promotional code to allow us to review it, we're actually not sure we would have bought Bejeweled 3 until it was in a sale for a more reasonable price, despite wanting it so badly. Yes, they may make more money off the inflated price, but it also comes across as being rather greedy - and it's also made me look at Bejeweled 3 with a much more critical eye than we otherwise would have, had it been 400 Microsoft Points cheaper.