I've come to accept that whether or not the world actually needs another version of Bejeweled is actually irrelevant. PopCap's jewel-matching game has been staggeringly popular for nearly ten years now, so wondering whether or not a sequel is actually justified seems beside the point. After all, popular franchises like Call of Duty, Madden and Guitar Hero have been popping out sequels for years with only the smallest of iterative changes, so who are we to judge Bejeweled by a different standard? The good news is that Bejeweled 3 doesn't break anything that made the series such a success and even manages to toss in a few improvements as well.
In case you've been living under a rock for ten years, or were recently hit on the head by a coconut, Bejeweled is a gem-matching game. That's it. I could end the summary right there and still feel like I covered all the bases. No, seriously. Why are you even still reading this paragraph? Do you expect me to go on and on about the series' uncanny ability to attract both casual and hardcore gamers? Did you want me to discuss the strange way the game is as satisfying when played for three minutes as it is when played for six hours? Perhaps you wanted me to offer an opinion on the simple, yet sparkly presentation?
Well, forget it. I'm not doing that.
What I'll do instead is tell you that Bejeweled 3's innovation is less in what it does than in how it does it. The old Classic mode is here, along with a new, low-impact Zen mode that combines the serene anxiety of matching gems with the anxious serenity of New Age biorhythms and creepy breathing sounds. If this is what puts people at ease these days, I worry about the children.
The big news is the addition of Quest mode. Players will progress through five levels, each with eight unique mini-modes. In some you may have to match a specific number of blue and red gems, with each match going on either side of a scale. Make too many matches of one color and your scale will tilt out of balance and the game will end. Most of the new modes have some sort of gimmick like this and, while they won't support a more open-ended version of the game, they do make satisfying short challenges that force players to think farther ahead than just the next match. I say "most of the new modes" because there are some that work very well in the endless progressions that Bejeweled is known for.
Some, like Poker, require the player to think ahead but offer a scripted end that essentially resets the challenges. Though it's tough, the player never really gets that tight feeling in his or her gut when the options start to run short. For that feeling, you'll have to try the new Butterfly mode. Here, you'll have to save gem-colored butterflies who appear at the bottom of your screen and move up a single row each time you make a match. If you let a butterfly get to the spider at the top, it's game over. Like most things about Bejeweled, this sounds silly. Then again, like most things about Bejeweled, it is deadly serious once you get in the zone.
The action gets most intense in the time-limited modes. Some, like Diamond, will have the player scoring matches along the bottom row to blast through the ground and reach new levels. Others, like Ice Storm, have players desperately seeking vertical matches to stop huge columns of ice from rising up from the bottom of the screen. There's even a mode where you have to use matches to dig up fossils. The trouble is that sand keeps coming in and covering up the stuff you've already unearthed.
There's definitely more to explore here, but everything else offered in this game is just a variation on a few basic themes. I'm not saying that as a criticism; obviously the simplicity of Bejeweled has won a large following, and deservedly so. But this is one of those games that you know within the first five minutes whether or not it's for you. And that kind of approachability may be the only real downside to this game. Bejeweled is everywhere, and has been for years now, so if you haven't tried it already, there's not much here that will attract your attention.
Bottom Line: If you happen to be the one person in the world who has never played Bejeweled, this is a great place to start. If you've already had your fill of the series, there's nothing here that will bring you into the fold.
Recommendation: This is a great version of the game for newcomers and hardcore fans. Those of us in the middle can safely pass it by.
This review is based on the PC version of the game.
Game: Bejeweled 3
Publisher: PopCap Games
Release Date: December 7th, 2010
Available from: PopCap.com