Often when we think of the current state of casual gaming, our minds go directly to the Wii and its library of party games and waggle-fests that seems to crowd the shelves of local game stores. What we tend to forget is that it wasn't Nintendo's White Wonder that set off the casual revolution, but rather a simple puzzle game involving gems and explosions. Yes, Bejeweled and even more so its successor, Bejeweled 2, really grabbed the attention of the previously underserved casual market, ushering a whole new breed of game front and center into our collective conscious. PopCap is now trying to prove that its flagship franchise still has it with Bejeweled Twist, and for the most part, it does.
The major gameplay change in this iteration of the series is that players no longer swap one gem for another either horizontally or vertically, but rather rotate four gems at a time in a clockwise fashion in an attempt to make a match, hence the title's namesake. This approach is much, much different than what we have come to expect and gives the game a freshness that the franchise desperately needed. Also new is the fact that players can move gems without making a match, thus allowing you to set up massive chains and big bonuses through careful maneuvering of the pieces on the board. It's a much different, slower approach to Bejeweled, and it's truly a love or hate affair. Those who long for zippy action and lots of on-screen stimulus will likely grow bored, but for gamers with a more strategic mind, devising new ways to rack up points with a Rube Goldberg gem device will be very rewarding.
Twist offers four different game modes, each of which is different enough from the others to warrant repeated sessions with the title. Classic is just what it sounds like, a mode where the player tackles a series of levels and attempts to match gems in order to proceed to the next stage. As the level count climbs, the game begins throwing obstacles your way in the form of bomb gems, locked pieces and doom gems. Bomb gems feature a counter that ticks down after every move you make and must be matched before the clock strikes zero. If you fail to clear the gem before that time, you are dumped into a roulette-style mini-game where you can disarm the bomb if you stop the spinner in a safe zone. As more bombs detonate, it gets harder and harder to disarm them until eventually, it's boom and game over. Doom gems are even more ominous, as they cannot be dismissed with a simple match and must be destroyed by a flame or lightning gem (earned by matching four or five of a kind, respectively). Overall, this new method of measuring failure works very well and can be significantly less frustrating than the prior games' method of arbitrarily ending your run when you ran out of gems to match. This way, gamers at least have a fighting chance of continuing on to the next stage, even if the odds are considerably stacked against you.
For those who enjoy a more frantic pace, there is Blitz mode, where all of the aforementioned dangers are present but you are also slapped with a five-minute time limit. The objective is simple: score as many points as you can before time expires, just like any other time attack or score attack mode you've seen in other titles. There's nothing new to see in this mode, but it doesn't mess with a classic, which a lot of people appreciate.
The polar opposite of Blitz is Zen mode, wherein all obstacle gems are removed and players are allowed to simply progress through the stages at their own pace. This mode is perfect for those who don't really want any sort of stress while playing and would rather just veg out for a bit in front of the PC while enjoying the sights and sounds of Bejeweled. Cynics call it boring; optimists call it calming, so take your pick.
The final, and arguably most interesting, mode is Challenge, where there are over 100 scenarios spread across 13 planets, each with its own theme. For example, the Conversation stages require you to keep a certain number of gems on-screen at the same time, and they must all be of a certain color. It may sound simple at first (and the first couple of stages are pretty easy), but once you're trying to keep 25, 30 or more of one color on the board without accidentally matching them and losing a bunch, it gets mighty tricky. Other planets feature challenges, such as clearing a certain number of gems in a single move or making an unbroken streak of matches over an extended period. Some challenges are also timed, testing both your brain and reflexes in order to win the day. This mode easily provides the most replay value of them all, and it's entirely likely that you'll be so sucked in by one challenge that you'll easily lose track of time and find yourself suddenly exhausted because it's 2 a.m. and you've been playing for hours. All of the previous Bejeweled titles have been ridiculously addictive, and Twist is no exception.
Ultimately, nearly everything about Bejeweled Twist looks and plays perfectly, and the only real faults with the game are sins of omission. The title is easily one of the most pretty and polished PopCap has released, but underneath that shiny exterior lurks yet another slightly shallow game. Challenge mode is the title's bread and butter, but unfortunately, it isn't going to click with everyone, and that means a lot of folks will be stuck with the same old modes they've already seen several times before, only this time they're twisting instead of swapping. The addition of a puzzle mode would have been welcomed, as well as the introduction of some kind of multiplayer.
Still, these gripes are minor, and taking Bejeweled Twist for what it is, you are left with a clearly superior casual puzzler. Twist offers a great tweak on a classic formula, but it would have been nice if things had been taken a few steps further. Even so, PopCap should be commended for continuing to push the series forward, even if by baby steps, rather than simply releasing re-skinned versions of the same game and cashing in. For those who already love this series dearly, the game doesn't disappoint, and your jewel-matching days are still far from over.
More articles about Bejeweled Twist