This is Some Next Level Puzzling
Bejeweled 3 may seem entirely pointless to you. When I first saw the title advertised on Steam, I could hear my own misgivings ringing in my head. After all these sequels, Puzzle Quest, browser-based rip-off's and the fact you could probably install Bejeweled on your pet dog at this point, I didn't see much to be excited about. It seemed redundant to make another sequel to something like Bejeweled.
If that thought process sounds familiar, take a seat. Bejeweled 3 may be the closest a puzzle game has ever come to perfection.
What sets Bejeweled and PopCap apart is the level of polish put into even the most trivial of releases. After Blitz and Twist, you would forgive PopCap for phoning Bejeweled 3 in, reaping the money of grandmothers and little girls everywhere, then having a huge cocaine party. Nope, the polish remains in Bejeweled 3. As soon as you boot up the game and the main menu music welcomes you in, you know this is a quality product. I mean, honestly, listen to this music:
How triumphant can you get?
Graphically, Bejeweled 3 is a slight progression from Bejeweled 2. If you read the recommended system requirements for each iteration in the series, you see the baby steps that PopCap have taken, slowly but surely, into the modern age. As it stands, my shitty netbook sometimes struggles to run Bejeweled 3 at its most crazy. I take this as a sign that PopCap is beginning to move on and develop for more advanced machines. While the graphical style won't win any awards, it's lush with detail and the effects can be truly stunning when you stop and look. For instance, the backgrounds are lightly animated in subtle ways and some of the special gems glow in a bizarre, hypnotic way. If you like your puzzlers to look great, Bejeweled 3 won't let you down.
Mode-wise, Bejeweled 3 retains the Classic mode that we're all familiar with. It has hardly been touched. There's also a Lightning mode, which is basically just Blitz -- not that I'm complaining. It's a great mode for people wanting a quick two minute game. Where things get interesting is the Quest mode. PopCap have added a linear progression of challenges that also guide you through some of the unlockable secret modes, such as Butterflies. Quest mode starts easy but gets fiendishly hard by the end. It's fantastic, addictive and definitely not for wimps.
One of the most talked about modes in Bejeweled 3 is the Zen mode. Purported to take alleged scientific research done on the meditative qualities of puzzle games and focus that into a single mode of Bejeweled, you are given access to a number of custom settings, such as relaxing ambient noise (autumn leaves, ocean sounds, the usual), breath modulation, subliminal or visible affirmative messages and other oddities. I fiddled with all the settings, got myself comfy and attempted to relax myself into a trance. While I did feel myself relax, it's no more relaxing than playing any other game. In fact, I found myself attempting to form puzzling "rules" in my head to break the monotony of endless puzzling with no clear goal. This led to me stressed myself out but at least I felt like I had a goal. There's probably something a shrink could take from that, I don't know.
Actually, on the topic of relaxation, the most relaxing mode in Bejeweled 3 is, without doubt, Butterflies Mode. This assigns you the task of matching butterflies with at least two other similar colour gems in order to release them from the board before they reach the top to be eaten by a spider. I found myself hopelessly addicted to this mode. It has no timer, no stress and requires a lot of strategic thought to get ahead. I'd buy another sequel called Bejeweled Butterflies if they expanded this idea into a whole game. It's that good. Well done to PopCap for discovering another way Bejeweled can ruin my productivity.
The other major highpoint of Bejeweled 3 is the impeccable music. Every mode has its own theme and they all knock me on my ass. Sonically inspired by Steve Reich style contemporary classical music and reminiscent of N64-era Rareware classics like Banjo-Kazooie, I found myself listening to the soundtrack whenever I wasn't playing. It's a beautiful score with simple melodies and enough depth to blow you away each time. The sound design, top to bottom, is pretty much perfect and it shows how much thought and craft went into this game.
In the end, I feel weird heaping such high praise on Bejeweled 3. At its core, it's an incremental update to one of the most tired and overused puzzle mechanics in gaming. It shouldn't work. However, the final result soars beyond all expectations and shows that PopCap didn't make Bejeweled 3 purely to cash in: they made it because they thought of a few dozen other ways to make Bejeweled interesting again. That, in itself, is kind of astounding and shows why PopCap rules at this whole casual gaming thing. If you've ever enjoyed matching three things up to make them disappear, you'll probably love this game, no matter how many times you've played it over the years.