I’m rubbish at Bejeweled.
A few years ago, after I’d been toying with it for a month or two, I introduced my then-girlfriend to the Bejeweled Blitz Facebook app. This was long before it had power-ups you could pay for; at the time, it was down to pure skill. For a few weeks things were fine; she lagged behind a little on my friends’ leaderboard, but not so badly that she got fed up.
Then, all of a sudden, something seemed to click in her mind. Her scores started rocketing up and up. First she was scoring 150,000 in every single game. Then 300,000. Then 500,000. I couldn’t keep up. To add insult to injury, she wasn’t using a mouse, but a vastly inferior laptop touchpad. It’s probably for the best – if she’d been using a mouse they’d probably have had to start listing her scores using exponents.
So either I’m rubbish at Bejeweled, or she’s some sort of gem-matching savant. In truth it’s probably a little of both, but there’s still that nagging doubt in my head that, actually, I’m just terrible at Bejeweled.
Despite the shame I now associate with the name Bejeweled, despite the horrible feeling that I’m awful at it no matter how well I score, I really have to recommend Bejeweled Blitz Live as being one of the most addictive and enjoyable versions of Bejeweled out there.
I’d like to assume that pretty much everyone knows how Bejeweled works by now but just in case: you have a grid of different coloured gems, and the ability to swap gems that are next to each other to make matches. A match of three like-coloured gems grants points; matches of four or five grant extra points as well as special gems that, when matched, destroy even more surrounding gems for even more points.
Bejeweled’s controls translate well to the 360. The analogue stick moves your cursor around, while the face buttons swap the selected gem in whatever direction the face button points. Y will swap with the gem above the cursor, A with the gem below, etc. It takes a little getting used to if you’re familiar with the PC’s click-swapping, but it’s about the best you can hope for on a gamepad and it works perfectly well.
Blitz Live contains two game types – Classic and Twist, the latter of which replaces gem-swapping with gem-rotating – both of which give you exactly 60 seconds to rack up as many points as possible, which probably sounds familiar if you’ve either played Facebook’s Bejeweled Blitz or the Lightning Mode of Bejeweled 3. This might not sound like much for 800 Microsoft Points, but it’s rounded out with a variety of multiplayer options.
In addition to single-player, both game types can be played in Battle Mode or Party Mode. Battle Mode is a split-screen offering that can be played online or off, in which you directly compete with another player. Battle Mode scores you in three categories (Points, Amps, and Style) with the victor the player who is leading in two of the categories at the end of the game. Points are awarded in the usual manner, Amps are granted each time you make a gem match, and Style is the number of points obtained through either the use of special gems or cascade effects.
It’s fun to dip into and it’s nice to have a way to prove to your friends and family that you’re the better Bejeweled player, but Party Mode is the one which has me playing for hours.
Party Mode can be best described as playing single-player alongside other people. You have your grid on screen, and can’t see anyone else’s. In fact, the only things cluing you into the presence of other players are the chatter (if you haven’t got everyone else muted, at least) and the little ladder to the left which marks your score as compared to a bunch of other players.
I have no idea what this ladder means, or what seventh-dimensional metrics it’s based on. You see, after each 60 second round, you can wait 10 seconds until you’re automatically put into your next game, or you can impatiently tap A to immediately get another round. Thinking about it, this means that I can’t be competing for score with people on a round to round basis – if I’m jabbing at the A button like the infuriated chimpanzee I am, and they’re casually waiting the 10 seconds out while they perhaps sip some tea, then we’re going to be completely out of sync after a few rounds. So does the ladder mark your average score? Am I playing against the scores of people from games in the past? Are they, in fact, real people, or have PopCap generated fake Gamertags and recorded random snippets of conversations? Thoughts like these keep me awake at night.
In terms of how much it matters to the game, though… well, it doesn’t. Regardless of how the ladder is measured, it feels good to propel yourself past the smug git in first place, particularly if it was via a Last Hurrah that set off a Hypercube and three Flame Gems, causing a massive cascade. (The player in first probably isn’t a smug git – I mean, one paragraph ago, I wasn’t even sure if it was a real person – but who cares?) And in typical PopCap fashion, that cascade is heralded by fireworks that blast you up the ladder. It turns my brain into joyous rainbows.
Party Mode makes it very, very easy to sit there and play for hours. Each 60 second burst isn’t quite enough to satisfy you, because you’re not on top yet. And even if you are, well, you need to stay there. And hey – someone new just joined the game. You need to see if they’re any good, or if you can look down on them because they haven’t managed to topple you after six rounds.
The usual PopCap charm is also present and correct. Everything is beautiful and shiny and happy. Gems click satisfyingly as they fall onto one another; the sound of gem matches gradually increases in pitch as you match one after another in quick succession. After finishing a game, it only takes a few seconds before you’re back into the next. Bejeweled Blitz Live is like some sort of digital time-devourer, and you’re happy for it to make the hours disappear.
The only big complaint I can level against it, in fact, is that it’s sparse for the asking price. There’s no Classic untimed mode, or even an endless mode letting you make match after match, forever. There’s only Blitz, and I suppose you could stick to the Facebook app for that (if you don’t mind the fact that you can buy power-ups for real money on there, at least.)
Considering the amount of hours I’ve put into it already, though, I’d say it’s well worth the money. It integrates beautifully into your friends list, it has leaderboards reset weekly, and the game modes here really are all you need to keep you occupied for far longer than you could possibly want.
I say this, and I’m rubbish at Bejeweled. Think about how much you’ll enjoy it.