It's been nearly a year since the PC version of Bejeweled 3 debuted and countless hours were lost to the gem-matching extravaganza. It was only a matter of time before PopCap brought it to XBLA, and that time has arrived. Unlike Plants vs. Zombies, the XBLA version of Bejeweled 3 doesn't boast any new modes when compared to its PC counterpart, but it does feature two things that should garner interest: leaderboard support and a lower price.
Leaderboards were the most noticeable omission from the PC iteration of Bejeweled 3. In a connected world where everything from game consoles to Facebook games has a way to share your scores, keeping everything local was somewhat of an odd choice with Bejeweled 3. It meant that, aside from a few friends e-mailing screen captures of their achievements, you were really only competing against yourself. Now you can see how you compare at a glance, both to your friends as well as the world at large.
On the PC, Bejeweled 3 used a mouse for input, while the XBLA version uses the controller. PopCap wisely included three different control schemes, so players will likely find one that suits them well. By default, you move gems by pressing a button and tapping the left analog in the direction you want it to move. A second option is to use the right analog for moving gems. The third option maps gem movement to the four face buttons, just like the XBLA version of Bejeweled Blitz. That last option isn't very intuitive, but once you've become accustomed to it, it can be the fastest of the three.
Bejeweled 3 for XBLA includes all of the same game modes found in the PC version. Classic mode is the core of Bejeweled 3 and should feel immediately familiar to fans of the franchise. Compared to Bejeweled 2, it has received quite the visual update, but otherwise plays similarly. The challenge in classic mode is one of strategy, not time. You're never forced to make a move, but you do need to plan ahead. Haphazard matching can easily lead to a situation where no more moves are possible. At that point, it's game over.
Do well enough in classic mode to unlock the poker game variant, where the goal is to match gems in the form of poker hands. It takes the strategic element of classic to the next level, especially when simpler hands start getting blocked from play. Once again, planning a few moves ahead is key to survival.
Lightning mode is a lot like Bejeweled Blitz. You start lightning mode with a minute on the clock. Matching gems can earn you time gems, which can then be matched to earn more time for the next round. Each round increases your multiplier, but also resets any uncollected time gems back to normal gems. While there is pressure to make the big matches and score big points, you have to balance that with collecting the time gems. After all, ignoring those means game over is likely to come sooner rather than later. Playing lightning mode unlocks ice storm.
Ice storm crosses Bejeweled with a series of leaky pipes. As the water fills up around your gems, the cold weather causes it to slowly freeze. Letting that happen would be bad, so you need to keep making matches to prevent the pipes from bursting. Each horizontal match pushes back the water a little bit, while a vertical match completely clears out a column, even if it is nearly frozen solid. After playing lightning mode, you may be tempted to simply match everything as soon as possible, but here, survival is almost counterintuitive. You're actually better off lining up matches and then waiting until you need to use them.
Quest mode consists of a series of one-off puzzles with specific rules. Completing individual puzzles grants you a relic gem. Collect enough relic gems to retrieve the relic, and move on to the next level. Some examples include a puzzle where you have to clear 120 gems in 20 moves and one where you have to clear an equal number of red and blue gems, with the catch being that they are on a scale. If you don't clear them evenly, the scale tips, and it's game over. It's sort of like Bejeweled 2's puzzle mode, just with a bit more depth. Earning the first relic in quest mode unlocks diamond mine.
Diamond mine is a full mode based on one of the quest mode minigames where you are digging for treasure. Playing out like a variant of lightning mode, diamond mine requires you to match gems at the bottom of the screen to "dig" through the dirt. Excavate the dirt back to the clear line, and the playfield moves up while adding another 30 seconds to the clock. Unlike other modes, the focus is entirely on the bottom row in diamond mine. Clearing gems elsewhere on the screen doesn't really offer any major benefit. Though it is simple in nature, this is easily the most addictive mode in Bejeweled 3.
Zen mode is designed for players who just want to play without fear of losing. It's very similar to classic mode, except you'll always have a match, so you can't really lose. The PC version of the game featured ambient soundtracks and binaural beats when playing in Zen mode. The selectable ambient soundtracks are here, but the binaural beats have been removed. No big loss there, but oddly enough, selecting an ambient soundtrack doesn't mute the default game soundtrack; you have to go into the options and do that manually. Playing through Zen mode long enough unlocks butterflies mode.
Butterflies mode tasks you with clearing butterfly gems before they are captured by the spider. Butterfly gems are just like normal gems except that they move up one row every single turn. Playing butterflies mode is easy enough in the early game, when there is only one butterfly to worry about, but as multiple butterflies take up residence on the playfield, keeping them all safe becomes quite the balancing act.
Looking sharp and controlling well, the XBLA version of Bejeweled 3 is easily on par with its PC brethren. Though the PC version has a slight visual edge, the addition of leaderboards and a customizable control scheme make the XBLA version a solid contender. It also doesn't hurt that at 1,200 MSP ($15 USD), Bejeweled 3 on XBLA is cheaper than on the PC. We can't help but wonder how much more appealing it would've been had PopCap managed to include a multiplayer option.
Editor's Note: Want to score a FREE copy of Bejeweled 3? Then head on over to Twitter and follow @WorthPlaying. We're giving away XBLA copies of the game today (10/28/2011).
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