Bejeweled has been around for almost a decade, and its popularity is showing no signs of waning. From the original browser game released in 2001 to the 2008 re-envisioning in Bejeweled Twist, practically every person who's ever touched a computer knows about the series. PopCap invests a lot of effort into the scarce Bejeweled sequels, and as soon as you see what Bejeweled 3 has to offer, you'll appreciate the extra attention that was put in to getting you hooked on gem swapping all over again.
The core experience of Bejeweled 3 remains unchanged from previous releases, maintaining that smooth look and familiar layout we could all sketch out in our sleep. Matching four or five gems creates Flame Gems and Hypercubes, which help clear large chunks of the screen at once, and if you create two intersecting matches, you get a Star Gem. These bonuses are constant throughout most of the game, rewarding you for being wily with your swapping skills with big, pretty special effects and a nice clear game grid.
Where the game really captures your attention, though, are the extra modes that incorporate goals, challenges, and twists on the Bejeweled formula. Four modes are available from the start: Classic, Zen, Lightning, and Quest. Hitting certain milestones in each of these unlocks four additional modes. You'll probably start with Classic, which is exactly what the name implies and lets you work your way into higher, more challenging levels by matching gems to fill up a meter. Lightning mode is a race against the clock where you have to match time gems to keep the hourglass from emptying. Then there's Quest mode, a hefty experience that's packed with mini-game-style levels built around a single goal. Time Bomb, for example, asks you to match ten bomb gems before the timer hits zero, and Alchemy challenges you to turn the whole grid into gold by making matches that spread to each column and row. The list goes on, and there's no shortage of challenge to be found in Quest mode!
Here's what you might not expect to get from Bejeweled 3: a serious relaxation tool. Most games feature a Zen mode that strips timers and other stressful features from gameplay. Bejeweled 3 goes about ten steps further and adds a host of customizable tools that help you relax. For starters, you can change the background music to ambient sounds like rain falling through leaves or waves on the beach. Then, incorporate positive mantras or binaural beats to create new patterns in your brain that put you in a different state of mind. Finally, breath modulation uses audio and visual cues to regulate breathing patterns, a great first step in soothing your nerves. PopCap designed Zen mode with actual studies in mind, and reducing anxiety is something so very few games can lay claim to.
Analysis: Bejeweled 3 is a whole lot of Bejeweled. It's no wonder the series is the flagship for the match-3 genre. PopCap has really outdone itself with this installment, and as you can clearly see from the wall of text above, it's more than just moving things around a grid. Even though the core mechanic of gem swapping is the game, it somehow manages to be different all over again.
Particularly interesting in Bejeweled 3 are the fun unlockable modes. You don't have to play for very long to gain access to them, and once you do, you'll probably stick with them for a very long time. I had the most fun with Poker, a mode that turns your matches into cards that must be combined to form valid poker hands. Each hand scores points, and as the game progresses, easier hands become locked, forcing you to get smarter and smarter with your moves. There's also Diamond Mine (a reference to Bejeweled's original name, no doubt), which turns your gem matching into a digging tool. Very cool!
If there's any room for improvement in Bejeweled 3, it would be with Zen mode. A lot of work and research already went in to creating this effective relaxation tool, but once you play it, you'll want more. With the breathing tool turned on and ambient sounds soothing your ears, it's sometimes jarring to have gems exploding from your speakers and the game's color-filled effects shaking up the screen. Bejeweled 3's visual effects are stunning, so no complaints there, but when you're on the verge of a total brain zone out, a little more plainness would be a good thing.
A near perfect experience, just like you'd expect, Bejeweled 3 is the next generation of match-3 puzzle games. It looks amazing, it plays smoothly, it's got challenge, relaxation, replayability, and lots of badges to earn and things to achieve. Get ready to start the addiction all over again!