Bejeweled iPhone Review: Only a dollar? Is this the Angry Bird affect?
Since it first hit browsers in 2001, Bejeweled has become the ultimate example of the addictive, instantly accessible gameplay that's made PopCap Games a giant in the casual market. It's their Halo, and the new Bejeweled for iPhone is the Halo: Reach of the series. Stripped down to four game modes and visually optimized for the latest generation of smartphone, it's both parred down and gussied up in a way that makes it a classic and iconic extension of the brand. With no number in the title (great choice PopCap) and a 99 cent price tag, it's instantly the new standard.
For most, a game like Bejeweled is a time waster, something you play on a coffee break, or in line at the Post Office. Type Bejeweled into the iTunes store, however, and you'll be shocked to find the signs of Bejeweled ?hardcoreness.? ?Cheats for Bejeweled,? ?Guide to Bejeweled 2,? yes, people are actually charging money for these. While I've not brought myself to spend the dollar needed to investigate what these apps offer (probably tips for setting up big combos), it just goes to show you that this is a puzzle game with some depth, and an audience willing to spend coin to learn it. Not bad for a little game about matching colors.
Whether you swap jewels in your dreams or you barely care about this game, the latest version of Bejeweled gets you. It's a snappy little app; on my iPhone 4, touching the Bejeweled icon had me racking up combos in about fifteen seconds, even faster once it's in the multitasking bar. It also has nice audio options. As someone who likes to play with the sound off, I appreciate that the options menu has ?Mute All Sounds? right at the top, as well as separate volume sliders for music, speech, and effects. Glad I am to mute that overzealous voice of praise that says ?good? or ?outstanding? whenever I score a combo. When did Bejeweled become Unreal Tournament? I guess in Bejeweled 2, when they introduced this feature.
Let's talk some more about the audio of Bejeweled. Like I said, I play muted, which is kind of like playing on easy mode. While I usually do it for the sake of everyone else in line at the bank, I've come to realize it's almost cheating, since the game gets so much tension out of its music. As in the final rounds of ?Who Wants to be a Millionaire?? Bejeweled turns up the pressure by making the score frantic as time runs out. Playing without it helps you keep your cool, possibly unfairly. Whether muting is cheating is your call, but let me say this: if there were Bejeweled tournaments, that music would be blasting. Maybe playing on mute is one of the tips those ?cheats? apps are selling?
Alternately, Bejeweled can be incredibly relaxing, as in the aptly-named Zen mode. This mode, which has no race-the-clock pressure, lets the player swap the music for ambient sounds of their choice, like waves, crickets, or falling water. It actually borders on goofily New Agey - you can even select a ?mantra,? encouraging phrases like ?this feeling will pass? that appear at steady intervals, and ?breathing modulation,? breath sounds designed to guide your heart rate and help you relax. Weird, PopCap, but not unappreciated.
This new Bejeweled also looks great. The trippy wormhole transitions are sharp as ever; benefiting from the newer, faster iPhone processors, they're now stutter-free. The all-important jewels are at their shiniest, those eye-catching gleams look terrific on the iPhone's display.
While this Bejeweled is certainly the best version on the iPhone, it's not the cheapest. Bejeweled Blitz, the social game mode that compares your scores with those of your Facebook friends, is now it's own little app and goes for the low, low price of free. Blitz still appears in the regular Bejeweled menu, but selecting it will switch you to that separate app, or bring you to the iTunes page to download it. It might seem like a weird move, but it makes great marketing sense. Give away the social version for free, it'll run rampant in Facebook feeds like a digital common cold. It also means that the standard Bejeweled app won't be bugging you to sign in to Facebook all the time, an annoying feature of most every other iPhone game.
This might be the best incarnation of Bejeweled available on iPhone, but the biggest and best all-around version is Bejeweled 3 for PC/Mac. Laughably over-priced at $20, it's still the winner for having eight game modes. Even if only two of those modes, Ice Storm and Diamond Mine, are the stand-outs, why is Diamond Mine the only one included in this release? Why leave the others just lying around? Perhaps they're being saved for the iPad version, which PopCap has yet to comment on. Although Blitz is currently available on the iPad (just as free and awesome as it is on the iPhone), as far as a more complete iPad release goes, one can only hope.