Bejeweled Blitz rose to fame as a free Facebook app that has consumed countless hours of productivity the world over. Designed to be played in bite-sized chunks of 60 seconds each, Blitz is appealing both for its short duration as well as the competitive nature of the leaderboard. In a move to expand the game's reach, PopCap brought the app to Xbox Live Arcade in the form of Bejeweled Blitz Live. However, the transition seems to have hit a few speed bumps.
First, the good, and then the bad. In coming to the console, one of the key challenges was creating a control scheme that lent itself to speed. When every second counts, you don't want players fumbling with the analog stick. Here PopCap and Torpex have succeeded admirably. You use the thumbstick to navigate the cursor, but all movement is handled via buttons. In classic mode, you use the four face buttons as a virtual d-pad. Want to match by moving up? Hit Y. Want to move to the right? Tap B.
If you've spent hours upon hours playing Bejeweled 2 on XBLA, learning the new control scheme will take a few minutes, but it is well worth the mental speed bump, as the net gain in speed is impressive.
Of course, speed is what it's all about in Bejeweled Blitz Live because of the time limit — and the multiplier. The faster you make matches, the faster the multiplier goes up. Keep making matches at top speed, and before you know it, every single match will set off an explosion. Yes, lining up massive chains will also help your score, but nothing we saw could beat pure speed.
In addition to classic mode, Bejeweled Blitz Live also introduces twist mode to the 60-second format. Here the goal is the same, but the method of matching is different. Instead of moving blocks side to side or up and down, you must rotate (or twist) a block of four clockwise or counterclockwise. Rotate the gems into position to score a match.
Both modes can be played solo, in battle mode with a friend (both locally and online) and in the 16-player party mode. Party mode is something of a mash-up between solo and battle mode. Everyone is playing simultaneously, but unlike battle, there is no defined win condition. Instead, everyone in the group plays game after game, while intra-group rankings are displayed in real time. Think of it as a way to kick back with friends and shoot the breeze while playing. Assuming you have a good group, this is easily the best mode in the game.
Unfortunately, not all is shiny with Bejeweled Blitz Live, and the rough sections crop up rather quickly.
The first thing veteran players will notice is the lack of coins and boosts. These features have been removed from the game, leaving just the core gameplay. Given that Bejeweled Blitz Live isn't a very deep game to start with, removing options (that are available in a free iteration) just seems odd. We would have much preferred to see features added to the XBLA version of the game, especially since this one isn't free. Including something like Bejeweled 3's lightning mode would have been perfect, as that is essentially an evolved version of Blitz's core mechanic.
Navigating the menus within Bejeweled Blitz Live is also a bit odd because the game doesn't conform to the standard Xbox 360 platform guidelines. This is the sort of thing that you never notice when a game follows them, but you notice as soon as it deviates, as is the case here. Some examples are the fact that you have to press the start button to get into the main menu (the A button does not work) and you need to press either X or Y to pick a mode (the analog stick cannot be used to navigate between the selections).
Leaderboard integration is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, you can see a live ranking of your top friends in-game at all times. On the other, navigating to the full leaderboard requires going back out to the main menu.
Aurally and visually, Bejeweled Blitz Live tends toward the dull side. The gems are shiny, but the rest of the package is unimpressive, especially after seeing what PopCap did with the XBLA version of Plants vs. Zombies and the aforementioned Bejeweled 3. Expect to see a basic playfield and hear the same music over and over.
Ultimately, the biggest issue with Bejeweled Blitz Live is that it simply doesn't have enough meat on its bones. As a free game, it's a wonderful diversion, but at 800 MSP ($10 USD) for a download, it feels a bit thin. Unless you have a close group of Bejeweled-addicted friends to battle, it's probably best to wait until this one drops to 400 MSP before pulling the trigger.
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