For nearly a decade, Popcap’s flagship game Bejeweled has been the definitive casual game. Simple to understand and yet horrendously addictive, the game has appeared everywhere. From browsers to iPhones and even making an appearance in World of Warcraft, and spawning countless imitators and variants it seems that surely everyone has played it once by now. Yet here we stand with a brand new standalone flavour of the Facebook version of the game. Is it worth the dough, or is it ultimately a flawed gem?
For the 0.1% of the population reading this who don’t know Bejeweled, you’re given a 8-by-8 grid of gems from which you have to select gems to switch places with adjacent gems in order to get similar gems to match up in groups of three or more. Do this and the gems disappear, and the ones above fall down to take their place. In Blitz, a 4 match will produce an explosive gem, which when cleared will also clear all gems around it, regardless of colour. A match of five will produce a rainbow gem, which doesn’t have to be matched but when you click it followed by any colour gem, ALL gems of that colour are removed from the board. With these three methods you can cause massive cascades and rack up a massive score. The main pull with Blitz is that you only have one minute to get as high a score as possible.
You’re of course rewarded for managing to make matches without stopping thanks to a speed bonus, get enough of these in succession and you’re rewarded with the Blazing Speed perk, which for a short time makes every match explosive and really racks up the points, as of course do combo matches from falling gems falling into further matches, eventually making the grid a cacophony of exploding gems. Visually and aurally it’s very bold, bright and easy to understand. There’s a vibrancy that pours from the visuals, while not being overstimulating which could put you off further matches. Some gems also contain coins, which can be spent on up to three of five powerups providing extra time, a free multiplier and the chance to explode any special gems on screen, amongst others.
The main pull of Blitz is of course, the ability to import your Facebook friends, and compare scores. It’s good to know that a game like Bejeweled has such mainstream appeal, as it’s far more likely many of your Facebook friends have played it and thus their scores are there to be played against. You can track how well they’ve done on a weekly basis and I have to admit it adds a lot knowing that you’ve beaten that guy you used to know from school who you always thought was a bit too cocky… Of course there’s the obligatory posting to the wall options, with added replay functionality so once you goto Facebook you can see how your friend pulled that extra 100,000 points out of seemingly nowhere.
However, we get onto the main bugbear of Bejeweled Blitz – is it worth it? It gets a little hazy here. See, the only real extras that the standalone version provides is the chance to play the game in whatever resolution your monitor supports, and the Badges/Rank system. Basically like achievements, these are awarded for certain tasks such as destroying so many rainbow gems or getting enough Blazing Speed bonuses. For these two features plus one million bonus coins, Popcap are charging £15 at the time of writing. For these extras bolted onto a game which the real meat is playable for free on Facebook, it seems a very expensive privilege to play it on your own. Sure, it’s very addictive, an excellent timewaster and a lot of fun – but for this price surely Popcap should be offering something more substantial – it’s not as even as if you can post your badges or achievements on Facebook to brag about them, so they’re purely for your own sense of self worth.
So Bejewled Blitz then. It’s a great game, and I highly recommend you give it a go if you’re on Facebook. But whereas paying a premium may be justifiable for playing it on an iPhone or portable device that can’t use Flash, it’s really hard to truly advise you pay that to play it on a device that can just as easily play online for free.