Pros: Addictive; simple; strategic; fun; inexpensive; easy to purchase and download; timed or un-timed gameplay
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
First published 1/7/2005
As I mentioned in my review of PopCap Games’ Big Money, although I enjoy computer games, I don’t play a whole lot of them because I’m not all that good at them. (The tendonitis doesn’t help, either.) The recent games from PopCap, however, are simple enough that even I can do well at them, yet adaptable and challenging enough that they can still appeal to people with more experience and skill than I have. While Bejeweled doesn’t have the choice of difficulty levels that Big Money does, simply turning on the timetrial mode makes things much more difficult, and of course each new level becomes progressively harder to beat. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Bejeweled is a basic color-and-pattern-matching game. It gives you a grid full of differently-shaped and -colored gem-stones, and you can swap any two around that are next to each other–as long as that swap will result in three or more of the same type of stone in a row. When that happens, those stones vanish from the board, the stones above them drop down, and more new stones fall on top of those. When you run out of viable moves, your game ends.
As you complete matches, a bar along the bottom of the screen fills up. When it’s full you progress to the next level, where it takes a lot longer for that little bar to fill up again before you get to go up yet another level. You can get more points and fill up the bar faster by making larger matches (4 or 5 gems at once) or by causing cascades of matches–which are just plain fun! In timetrial mode the bar at the bottom slowly loses ground even as you make your matches. If it runs out, your game ends.
I find that Bejeweled is more of a relaxed, I-want-to-zone-out game than Big Money. It has fewer frobbies and bells and whistles to play with, but it’s a lot of fun, sort of in the way that solitaire is fun (except prettier). It will save your game if you quit in the middle, and it saves your high scores once you register the game (separately for timed and un-timed, as well as your daily high score). It will also ask you now and then if you want it to check the PopCap website for a more recent version of the game with bug fixes and/or updates (not that I’ve ever noticed a bug in this…).
The game includes simple music and sound effects much in keeping with the low-key nature of the game. There’s a volume control that lets you easily determine the volume, all the way to turning it completely off, and you can control the volume of sound and music separately. (I find the music repetitive after not too long and usually keep it turned off, but unless I have other music playing I usually leave the sound effects on, because I find they don’t annoy me and are actually kind of charming.)
Why I Love PopCap Games, Redux
They tend to involve pattern- and/or color-matching skills, and you might be able to squeeze the term “educational” in there somewhere, or at least try to convince yourself that you’re developing your mind by playing them. Sounds good to me, at least!
They have a lot of style. A lot of thought clearly goes into the “atmosphere” of the game. The jewels in Bejeweled sparkle, glitter, and shine with bright colors. They’re a little on the blocky side, but that’s okay.
They aren’t expensive. I think the most I’ve ever paid for a PopCap game was about $20.
They’re convenient. You can get them on CD if you want. Or you can download them and purchase a registration key. That way as long as you have your key you can always download it again if anthing happens to the old copy.
They include various modes and varieties of game-play. In this case your options are time-trial and non-time-trial.
PopCap also understands that people want to try things out before they buy them these days, and so they make it possible for you to play many of their games in your web browser from their website. I find that for some reason Safari and IE for the Mac can’t handle a number of them, but it can handle some of the simpler ones, and I’ve been able to play others (like Insaniquarium) through Virtual PC. You can also download the “deluxe” version if they have one for your platform (some games are for the PC only; some are for PC or Mac–and they have Palm versions of games too!) and you can play it as a demo for a limited number of times before you need to register.
Note that there is now a “Bejeweled 2″ out. Unfortunately for the moment there’s only a Windows version. I’ve used Virtual PC to play it in the browser, and it’s even more fun than Bejeweled. There are “special effects” that happen if you make 4-gem or 5-gem matches (making them more valuable), and there are some gorgeous new screen backgrounds. The gems are also prettier. I’m hoping they’ll eventually put out a version for Mac OS X!
Added June 1, 2006: Bejeweled 2 has come out for Mac OS X. Review to come soon!