Making a sequel to a popular puzzle game is a daunting task. Most puzzlers don't have characters or a narrative, instead focusing their attention on a clever gameplay mechanic. No matter how good the concept is, many companies find it hard to innovate on the theme and give customers enough incentive to spend even more money. How many people fondly remember the release of Tetris 2? Did anybody own Columns III? And even though Lumines II was superior in a lot of ways, it will always be in the shadow of the PSP launch game.
Bejeweled 3 suffers from a lot of the same problems that have plagued so many other puzzle game sequels. While the core gameplay is largely unchanged, PopCap Games has decided to toss in every variation on the theme they could possibly think of. I'm not sure that's enough of a reason to invest another thirty dollars into this franchise, but there is enough diversity here to warrant a purchase for those of us who missed the game the first time around.
Like most puzzlers, Bejeweled has a simple concept that proves to be both addictive and challenging. Each round is played on an 8 by 8 grid, where the goal is to match at least three colors together. Fans of Puzzle Quest (and its many clones) will feel right at home with Bejeweled, as it features the same basic concept ... only this time without the cool magic spells and leveling system.
Matching three colors together is just the tip of the iceberg. Ideally you will want to match four and even five colors together; giving the player high points and, depending on which mode you're playing, cool power-up items that can help clear the board. Each eliminated gem is replaced, with all of the colored gems falling down from the top. Expert players will be able to earn more points by chaining multiple matches all in one turn, which is the kind of thing that keeps people playing long after they've opened all of the extra modes.
There are eight modes in all, though only four of them are available from the start. We start with the Classic Mode, which features the original rules and no time limit. You can go as long as you want, but be warned that the game ends the moment you run out of available matches. Here you'll link gems together in hopes of getting on the score leader board. While the game doesn't offer anything in the way of online score tracking, you can still compete against yourself and others by simply remembering your best score.
Up next is the Zen Mode, featuring a relaxing mix of music and non-competitive gameplay. This mode acts a lot like Classic, though you won't have to worry about the game suddenly coming to an end. This is in sharp contrast to Lightning Mode, a high-speed take on the Bejeweled theme. Here you'll have sixty seconds to make as many points as possible. The good news is that you can earn more points by matching special gems. This is the perfect mode for expert players looking to rack up as many points as possible without spending the whole day in front of their Nintendo DS.
The most intriguing game type is the Quest Mode, which forces players to fill in a picture by completing a series of unique puzzles. Some of these are as simple as matching a bunch of butterflies, while others have you balancing scales weighed down by colored gems. In one variation you have to find the three museum pieces hidden under the sand by matching colored gems. The trick is to uncover different parts of the eight by either playing field to locate items, a task that requires players to move specific gems into the right part of the field. This is no easy task, especially when the game starts trying more obstacles your way. In order to beat this mode you will need to complete several stages of these variations. I had a lot of fun with these simple, yet addictive mini-games.
Once you've played a fair bit of each of those modes, Bejeweled 3 unlocks four more modes that you can select at any time. Up first is Poker Mode, a variation on a mini-game found in the Quest Mode. This works a lot like a regular game of poker, only this time around you're earning cards based on matching gems. Extra points are made for matching special items, going for the same colors and that sort of thing, giving players a reason to think ahead with each move. The score is added up at the end and you move on to the next challenge.
For those looking for something a bit more action-packed, Ice Storm Mode will have you pulling your hair out. In this unique mode you fight large icicles that threaten each of your eight columns. They slowly make their way to the top of the puzzle, forcing you to match gems on the affected columns to combat their growth. This quickly becomes an overwhelming fight for your life.
Much like the Poker Mode, Butterflies Mode is a fleshed out version of a mini-game found on your quest. Here you will have to match butterflies to earn a high score. But don't think it's that simple, because you are always in fear of fiendish spiders trying to get in your way. The final mode is called Diamond Mine Mode and involves you locating hidden treasures for big points. This too is part of the Quest Mode package, though.
These four variations aren't nearly as involving as the starting modes, but they help round out a solid collection of short attention span games. Players can earn high scores and batches from these different modes, though I suspect most players will stick with Classic or Lightning. You get all this for twenty dollars, which seems like a fair price even if you already own multiple versions of Bejeweled.
The game plays exactly how you would expect, employing a simple touch screen approach. Gamers are also able to use the D-pad and face buttons to manipulate the board, though it's certainly easier with a stylus. The presentation is a step down from the PC and Xbox 360 release, though I doubt anybody will have a problem with the simplified graphics. The only thing it's missing is a role-playing game mode, but I guess that's what Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is for.
Bejeweled 3 doesn't attempt to reinvent the franchise, instead focusing on fun variations on the theme. While some modes aren't worth more than a play or two, there is certainly enough content here to warrant the twenty dollar asking price. As good of a fit as this is on the Nintendo DS, I can't help but wonder what PopCap will be able to do with the Nintendo 3DS hardware.