First released in 2001, the now-classic match-3 puzzle game Bejeweled has sold more than 25 million copies in its lifetime. And that's not counting the hundreds of millions of times its been downloaded. Four years in the making, Bejeweled Twist is PopCap's latest installment in the well-recognized series that brings some much-needed freshness to a relatively stale genre. And its incredibly addictive.
So what's the big change? Twisting is in, swapping is out. Instead of clicking a single tile and then choosing an adjacent space to move it to, Bejeweled Twist turns your cursor into a 2x2 circle that spins its contents one quarter turn clockwise. The core matching mechanics are untouched, so gamers will immediately find familiar territory. But the twist changes things just enough so you have to teach yourself to play a match-3 all over again. After years of shameless clones, that's a very, very good thing.
Four gameplay modes allow Bejeweled Twist to satisfy a wide range of puzzle gaming tastes: Classic, Blitz, Challenge, and Zen. Classic will eat up the bulk of your time and features a loose space theme where you fill a ship's power tube by matching gems. When its full, you blast off to the next world (puzzle grid) for more twisting. Bomb gems appear from time to time, ticking down to a game-ending explosion with each move you make. Match the bombs to make them disappear, otherwise you'll have to spin a roulette wheel and hope you survive.
Blitz mode features a similar setup but tasks you with scoring as many points as you can within five minutes. Zen mode is like Classic only without those stressful bombs getting in the way. Challenge is the most unique mode and sets you to a number of tasks (such as "match eight gems with one move") to see how skilled you are at twisting.
The overreaching goal in Bejeweled Twist is the same as most matching games: get a high score. In addition to points, Classic mode features stars you collect to earn a named rank. Getting to the top is a simple matter of learning the most effective way to play the game, then diving right in. Practice makes perfect, and a little luck never hurts either.
Analysis: I walked into Bejeweled Twist with high expectations. I was initially let down when I saw the brave new gameplay mechanic was nothing more than a little twist. After I played it for a few minutes, however, the magic became strikingly clear. Bejeweled Twist doesn't reinvent the match-3, it shuffles the base mechanics. Same matching flavor, brand new method of play. No need to learn a completely different genre of gameplay when you can make a familiar one new again.
Here's where Bejeweled Twist earns its hyper addictive nature. Most matching games pit you against the clock or otherwise rush you to do your job. Here, however, you adopt a chess-like stance of careful observation. Each time you make successive matches a points multiplier increases on the left side of the screen. Keep making matches without needlessly twisting gems and you'll earn ten times as many points for each row you obliterate. Make more matches, however, and you'll begin to earn colored fruits which, in addition to getting rid of ticking bombs, offer a whole host of points as well as initiating grid-changing events that are a sight to see.
Is this twisting mechanic new? No. In fact, an old Game Boy game called Brain Drain did something similar back in 1998. Is Bejeweled Twist a revolution to the puzzle genre? Not really. Bookworm Adventures, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, and even Peggle have done more for advancing originality in casual games. Is it fun, interesting, and addictive? You bet. I've had a blast with Bejeweled Twist, moreso than most puzzle games I come across. Some of that fun comes from training myself to use the new matching mechanic, the rest from PopCap's high level of polish. The game is gorgeous, every nook and cranny is painted with tasty colors and fun animations. I love watching the space ship fly away towing fruit and gems behind it!
Bejeweled Twist may not be as different as it was hyped up to be, but it delivers exactly what PopCap promised: a breath of fresh air to a stale genre. I've grown jaded with matching games over the last few years, but Bejeweled Twist renewed my interest almost immediately. It's a beautiful game with just the right balance of simplicity and bells and whistles. And it's terribly addictive.