PopCap Games has created a massive library of fun and casual games. If you have owned a cell phone in the last 7 years, there's a good chance you've had and/or played a PopCap game. Bejeweled is one such franchise that I can remember playing on my phone while I sitting waiting for class to start. Well, never let it be said that PopCap has forgotten the series because they have just released Bejeweled Blitz on the Xbox Live Arcade. What was once a Facebook title has now merged to the console crowd. The question of the hour is simple: does Bejeweled have the "stones" to be a good game.
Story you ask? Hah. It has none, nor does it need one. Bejeweled is a simple 2D puzzle game in which you have several multi-colored jewels that you are responsible for matching up and scoring points for doing so. By matching 3 or more of the same colored jewel, those jewels disappear and new ones take their place. This gameplay model has stayed the same from the first Bejeweled game all the way to now, with Bejeweled Blitz.
However, Blitz is slightly different. In past versions of the game, you could generally choose between a time trial mode and non-time trial, the play "for as long as you can keep matching jewels", mode. However, Blitz, as the name implies, is all about the speed and time trial mode is the only option. Each round only lasts 60 seconds. Past games in the series have had players move the jewels horizontally and vertically (known as classic mode in Blitz) but this new installment gives you the option of another mode called Twist. Twist mode has you move the jewels in a circular direction, which at first is quite difficult to do, but with a little practice, it becomes a bit more manageable. For matching multiple jewels at the same time, you're rewarded with special jewels that can help clear the board and earn you points faster.
In each level, all the points you earn turn into experience points that go towards your level. The level cap is at 50 and it will take a LONG time to get to; upwards of 10-20 hours. However, Bejeweled was never a game to be played in consecutive marathon sessions but rather casually here and there. Being on Xbox Live, there are options to play head to head with other XBL subscribers as well as a clever mode where you essentially play one player mode, but you're playing alongside other people who are doing the same. It's great in the sense that you can see how you are fairing against other players.
However, the novelty wears off very quickly. After the first 45 minutes of playing, the presentation lead to some nauseating headaches. Bejeweled is not meant to be a stunning game graphically, nor is it expect it to be. However, the design choices fail miserably.
Let's start with the graphics. Everything is bright and extremely colorful; neon is everywhere. It can make it very difficult to see the jewels when there are green neon energy ball things flying in the background. I had a hard time distinguishing the jewel colors because there was no contrast in the color scheme. Also, the special jewels you get can be incredibly hard to make out or to be able to tell what color the special jewel is. All in all, it was like the 1980s had thrown up on my TV screen. The seizure inducing graphics and colors are very difficult to tolerate for any length of time before making you feel a little queasy.
The sound and music were also very poor choices. To be honest, the audio in general was poorly conceived. Bejeweled, by nature, is a repetitive game, and the audio should do everything it can to dispel that feeling. However, that simply was not the case. The game had 2 or 3 pieces of music that all sounded the same, that were all really upbeat and stressful, and they repeated over and over and over and over and over and over... you get the point. Get a greater variety of music in there with different tones and intensity levels! There is also a female voice that announces everything and she never says anything new. Each game lasts 60 seconds and she gives time reminders throughout the whole session as well as counting down from 10 at the end. It was not a voice that was easy to listen to consistently. What may have bothered me most was the addition of voice chat. I realize that some co-op strategy games can benefit from it, but come on. This game did not need it and I had to keep going into a menu to mute people if I wanted to play online. By the end, I had turned the sound on my TV off and was listening to Enya just to try and stay calm.
The gameplay in Bejeweled Blitz offers very little that's new; if you've played one, you've played them all. Though, there is an infinite level of replay value which is a plus. However, with the super poor presentation decisions that were made, it's not a game that can be recommended easily. The bad elements in the game will physically prevent you from wanting to play for any length of time. You'd be better off checking one of the other versions that's available.