Two things immediately come to mind as I begin this review. First of all, yes, I am in fact aware that I’m just now reviewing a game that came out last year. I’m chalking this one up in the ‘better late than never’ category. Second, and let’s just be honest here, at this point we’ve all played Bejeweled to death. With two official games and literally hundreds of clones that have spawned from them, there really aren’t many new places left to with the standard match-3 formula. There’s a whole glut of games that use the same basic idea, toss on a sci-fi, fantasy, or midevil coat of paint, tweak a couple features, and call it a new game. In short, match-3 gameplay has, for the most part, become awfully stale.
When I received my copy of Bejeweled Twist, I’m pretty sure I sprained a eyeball muscle from rolling it back in my head so far. Having recently reviewed the cash grab that was Peggle Nights, I was preparing myself for a few new graphics but the same old, same old in the gameplay department. However, PopCap has proven yet again why they are the undisputed kings of the casual game by taking the basic concepts we’ve seen a million times before, and tweaking it just enough to feel completely fresh and new. I have to hand it to Bejeweled Twist; against all my expectations (and at the expense of all my free time) it has sucked me into the Bejeweled game all over again.
At first glace, you won’t notice much that is different about Bejeweled Twist. It still employs a slick sci-fi interface, there is still a 8 X 8 grid filled with sparkly pseudo-3D gems, and the idea is still to stick 3 like colored gems together to make a match and fill a meter that completes the level. In fact, I was initially surprised to see how little they changed. It still looks great, mind you (I even quite liked the 3D spaceship flying between each new area), but there wasn’t really anything we hadn’t already seen in previous iterations. Even the music is similar, which is certainly not a bad thing. I really enjoy Skaven’s compositions, and quite often use the Bejeweled 2 soundtrack as background music.
The twist on this version (pun completely intended) is how you go about matching the gems. Instead of simply moving the gem one space to match it up with others, your cursor is replaced by a circle that highlights a 2 X 2 square containing 4 gems. When you click, the 4 gems inside the cursor rotate clockwise, and (hopefully) line up with nearby gems outside the circle to make a match of 3 or more gems.
I know this doesn’t sound like much of a change, but let me assure you that it COMPLETELY changes the way the game is played. It also creates more than a bit of challenge for those of us that have spent dozens (or hundreds) of hours playing match-3 games the traditional way. It forces your brain to think of entirely different spatial relationships between gems, and truly reinforces the notion of planning multiple steps ahead. I can guarantee that it will feel extremely awkward and cause a ton of frustration for the first couple hours, but like any good puzzle game, you’ll soon begin to see patterns emerging that will allow you to create bigger matches and longer chains. A score multiplier increases the more consecutive matches you make without extra rotations in between, although I found it incredibly difficult to keep it any higher than 2 or 3. I also found myself wishing that the ring could be rotated in either direction (maybe clockwise with the left button, and counterclockwise with the right), as I think it would add another fun layer of complexity.
Of course, no Bejeweled game would be complete without throwing a bunch of unique wrinkles into the mix. Creating a match of 4 will create an explosive that destroys any surrounding gems when matched a second time. A 5 gem match creates a lightning gem which clears out the entire vertical and horizontal row once it is matched again. You’ll also encounter coal (which cannot match with anything and must be destroyed by explosives), locked tiles (cannot be rotated, but are unlocked with any match of 3 or more), and the biggest challenge of all – bombs.
Bombs appear as a normal tile with a very conspicuous countdown clock in the middle. Use them to make a match, and the bomb disappears. Let the counter get all the way down to zero, however, and you are given one last chance to disarm. The screen shifts to a roulette style wheel with 12 spaces that spin rapidly. For the first bomb you fail to disarm, two of these slots are filled with a skull & crossbones icon and the rest are gems. You randomly stop the spinning wheel, and if it lands on a gem, you’re all clear and the game resumes. Land on the skull, however, and it’s game over. You’ll only get this random chance 3 times, and on the 4th bomb you fail to disarm, the game ends. The first few levels typically have very few bombs, and the timers are relatively slow so they can be matched with no problem. Once you hit levels 10 and above, however, the bomb tiles are near constant, and the game becomes a frantic rush to disarm them before your screen goes kaboom. It’s really quite exhilarating and makes for an much more fast paced and hectic game than your standard, run-of-the-mill Bejeweled. I mentioned the multiplier earlier, and although I know keeping a high multiplier is the key to high scores, the game becomes such a frantic flurry of rotations, locks, and bombs that I was unable to pay much attention to it.
There are 4 main play modes in Bejeweled Twist: Classic (described above), Zen (same as above, but without the bombs), Blitz (score as many points as possible in 5 minutes), and Challenge (specific puzzles, basically). I mainly stuck to Classic and Blitz modes, although Zen is a fantastic way to learn the new system. There is no real time pressure, and allows players to practice seeing the patterns required to make matches from rotated gems. Challenge mode requires to you meet a set of increasingly difficult objectives, such as “match 4 red gems in a row”, “destroy 6 coal in 1 move”, or “create a 3X cascade”. I’m sure some folks will enjoy the puzzle nature of the Challenge mode, but I found most of them to be far more frustrating than fun. They seemed to rely heavily on luck, depending on which new gems dropped into the board. There is also a leaderboard, but it is limited to local scores.
Initially a huge skeptic, I am now a true believer in Bejeweled Twist. It somehow manages to make a completely stale concept feel fresh again, while providing a ton of replay value through different gameplay modes. It’s amazing how a simple tweak such as rotating gems can make such a huge difference in the entire Bejeweled experience. This is a puzzler that will remain on my system for a long time and get a ton of use…at least until we see Bejeweled 3.