Bejeweled is a simple but thought-provoking puzzle game, available in a shareware version from PopCap Games. The player is presented with a board full of differently colored gems. The positions of any two adjacent gems may be reversed and the object is to line up three gems of the same color, horizontally or vertically, to cause them to disappear.
Bejeweled looks innocent enough. The interface is so simple that as long as one has the manual dexterity to click a mouse button, one can play the game. This is part of the secret of its popularity: like Tetris, it is easy to get into and hard to put down.
The graphics are not why one plays this game, but they are attractive enough. The jewels twinkle when the player clicks the large purple circle on the left to get a hint, and animated text pops up when players reach a new level. Overall, the look is fairly basic, as is to be expected with games of this genre. If you're primarily looking for eye candy that will challenge your video card, this isn't the title.
The sound effects are as minimal and basic as the game itself. A male synthesized voice congratulates players with "Excellent!" when they achieve a cascade, and flags them "Go!" when they start. The jewels make little clinking noises when players eliminate a set of three or more. There's nothing extraneous here in terms of sound effects, but I've seen better. I always enjoyed Tetris' little intermissions with the Russian dancers, and its option to select different music options when playing. It might be nice if Bejeweled had such enhancements, but then again, it might be gilding the lily; many players would just click through it impatiently to get on with the next level.
The music is sort of a techno MIDI mix that sounds like the resident teenager has been toying around with a synthesizer. It's fine, but it isn't going to win any awards. Again, this aspect isn't the incentive to play the game. I know from personal experience that there are various opinions on whether players like it or hate it: I find it grating and annoying to the point that I turn it off while playing, but my sister finds it soothing. To each his or her own.
This is why so many have succumbed to Bejeweled. The object is to line up three or more jewels of the same type either vertically or horizontally. When the player does so, those jewels disappear, and are replaced with new ones that fall from the top of the screen. Lather, rinse, repeat numerous times to increase one's score until no moves remain and the synthesized voice announces "Game over!" as the game board explodes and the gems scatter and fall. The description sounds like nothing, I know, but I have yet to meet the person who wasn't entranced by this little diversion for at least a few days.
There are two settings: regular, and time trial. With the regular version, players may take as long as they need to go answer the phone, have dinner, and interact with other human beings: there's no need to pause the action. This is not the case in the time trial variation, where the object is to get as many jewel sets as quickly as possible before the clock runs down.
That's pretty much all there is to it: two ways of playing, each with their own high score board. It's quite likely that those who live in a household with one computer and multiple family members will find themselves competing against one another for a place on that score board. Such simplicity makes it a good candidate as a present for a friend or relative who may not be inclined toward complex games that are processor-intensive. There is no need to be equipped with "elite gamer hardware" to play it: indeed, there's even a version available for the Palm Pilot. You, too, can take it in the car on long road trips and ignore your fellow passengers.
Bejeweled appeals to the arcade gamer's ego in all of us: go for as long as you can to achieve the high score and record your name in digital ink on the screen for everyone to admire.
My primary criticism of the retail version of the game is the lack of an online component for players to upload their scores so that they might display them on the web. It would be nice, and would likely sell more copies, if the game offered the option of creating player rings so that friends and family across the miles could show off respectable high marks. Some might say that such a feature could produce frustration in gamers who aren't net savvy, but I believe that it would be deeply appreciated by those who are.
Fortunately, the game is also fun as a group activity, assuming your definition of fun includes the equivalent of multiple "back seat drivers" telling you "Click that one! No, over there!" Over Christmas at my parents' house, we all found ourselves grouped in the computer room at various points, "helping" whichever family member was playing at the time (whether he or she wanted it or not). On the bright side, playing as a team does help to prevent the tunnel vision that happens frequently with the game.
Bejeweled is an entertaining diversion that has ensnared many, from hardcore Quake players to computer users so casual that their only previous computer game experience was Solitaire. While the retail incarnation is not without a flaw or two, it retains the addictive, almost infectious gameplay that has made it such a hit: it's the most popular online game around. It costs less than most other new releases on the game store shelves, and is particularly suitable for anyone seeking a quick, user-friendly title for themselves or as a present for a casual gamer, especially one without an internet connection. Just be aware that it is far more addictive than, say, Minesweeper for most who have tried it.
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