Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bejeweled Twist Review

Bejeweled Twist, developed and published by PopCap Games.
The Good: Twisting is almost innovative, challenge mode is a great diversion, nice graphics for the genre
The Not So Good: It's been done before, no time pressure makes it less exciting, only a few special gems or powers, inability to rotate counterclockwise, repetitive normal mode
What say you? Apart from the core game mechanic (that only offers a minor change), nothing else is notably different: 5/8

One could argue that one of the most influential games of all time is Bejeweled. Basically responsible for the match-three sub-genre of puzzle games, it’s sold a whole bunch of copies and introduced a wide range of people to the world of computer gaming. While there have been countless clones, there hasn’t been a true sequel….UNTIL NOW. Bejeweled Twist is Bejeweled…with a twist (who knew?). Instead of simply swapping gems to make matches of three or more, you circulate (or twist) them. Will this radically alter the genre and prove to be yet another hallmark in the annals of casual gaming?

Bejeweled Twist has some good graphics for a puzzle game. The title features some 3-D effects, but only during the transition between levels; this interests me about the same as cut-scenes in other genres: none. You’ll be spending most of your time starting at the game board and making matches. Bejeweled Twist is 2-D during gameplay, featuring fairly average visuals that are not anything above and beyond what you’d find in any other game in the genre. Some of the effects are nice, such as lightning, but in general we’ve seen all of this before in countless clones and remakes. I am guessing that Bejeweled Twist lacks a lot of cutting-edge 3-D effects in order for the game to be compatible on a wide range of systems, since the potential audience probably doesn’t have advanced computers capable of advanced graphics. But I would still like to have the option of getting a full 3-D game with amazing visuals. The sound design is what you would expect for the genre: appropriate sound effects for each in-game action and background music that combine to form an effective level of controlled chaos during gameplay. You also get a spooky scary deep voice that says stuff. Bonus! Bejeweled Twist is slick to be sure, but the use of 3-D is quite underwhelming and overall I was disappointed in the presentation and expected a lot more.

Bejeweled Twist is the classic match-3 game, where you must line up three (or more) identical objects in a row. In addition to the normal game mode, Bejeweled Twist features an untimed Zen mode, a Blitz mode that features a five minute time limit, and a Challenge mode that is pretty interesting. Once you reach the third rank in the normal game, the challenge mode gives you specific goals to meet, such as destroying 25 gems in one move or detonating ten flame gems in five minutes. There are a lot of increasingly more difficult levels in the challenge mode, and it serves to break up the monotony of the normal game.

The “unique” twist of Bejeweled Twist is twisting. By selecting four gems at a time, they will all be moved clockwise. This one-button gameplay should appeal to extreme novices, but the inability to move gems counterclockwise should definitely be noted. While this would make the game less challenging overall, I would still like the option of moving gems in the opposite direction, even if it were restricted to the relaxed Zen mode. Your goal in each level of the normal game (where you will spend most of your time), is to earn enough points to advance to the next level. Bejeweled Twist is turn-based; if you clear gems in two successive moves, then the score multiplier increases, earning you more points. This is a lot harder than it sounds, and Bejeweled Twist requires a considerable amount of planning in order to maximize your bonuses. There is also a challenge bonus if you clear four specific colors in four successive moves, but this is almost impossible to execute. The normal game mode gives you stars based on your performance; these are used to earn new titles (a superfluous feature) and, more importantly, unlock the challenge game mode.

There are some special objects in each puzzle other than your basic gems. If you match four gems in a row, you will earn an explosive gem that, when matched, will also eliminate nearby gems. Also, five in a row will give you lightning that eliminates an entire row and column. Both of these features have been seen before in other games, but it's nice to receive a bonus based on your performance. If you are stuck, the game will eventually show some subtle hints (such as highlighting possible matches) to guide you along; this feature can be disabled as, since there is no time limit in the game, you can simply sit around and wait for one to appear. Coal will also appear on the board: it cannot be matched but can be removed by using nearby explosions or lightning. Locked gems cannot be moved but can be matched. Bejeweled Twist also randomly introduces bombs that must be matched before they detonate. They have a counter that decreases after every move you make, so time is of the essence. Of course, this timer is not in real time, so the amount of pressure is lessened. If you do not remove it in time, there is a one out of four chance of losing the level. Doom gems are a combination of pretty much every other type: the cannot be rotated or matched and they have a timer, but they can be destroyed like coal. Doom gems only count down if you do not make a match, so they are somewhat easier to deal with but harder to destroy. Really skilled players will earn fruit gems by maximizing the multiplier; they do a whole bunch of crazy stuff.

When it comes to match-3 games, I need some depth and variety to keep me interested. Unfortunately, Bejeweled Twist does not offer enough features beyond the challenge mode. I'm curious what five years of development was spent doing, as I would expect Bejeweled Twist to offer much more long-term replay value. As it is, you must really have to like match-3 games in order to enjoy Bejeweled Twist to its fullest. I think the lack of challenge due to the turn-based nature of the gameplay really turned me off: you can spend an unlimited amount of time considering you next move and weighing your options, and I prefer more hectic, action packed gameplay. Some would call the turn-based gameplay strategic, but I would call it boring. The game does look good for a puzzle game, although the lack of 3-D effects during the actual puzzles is questionable. The twisting mechanic increases the sophistication of the product as a whole and it's the next logical step for the franchise, but I found that the innovation wore out its welcome too quickly. I would have expected more special gems and some powers you could save up and use later. Plus, the inability to rotate gems counterclockwise is troubling. Honestly, Saqqarah did this better and with much more variety, so if you are looking for a great match-3 experience with tons of variety, Bejeweled Twist is clearly behind the best in the genre with its seven modes of play. While Bejeweled Twist is a good game, it is not a great game and its repetitive nature will wear on those not utterly entranced by the match-3 puzzle genre.