Review: Bejeweled for iPhone

Yes, Bejeweled is 10 years old and has been out for the iPhone (and iOS) for ages, so why review it now? Because I can!

And also because I have a scary number of hours invested in it, as it’s my go-to game when I tuck myself into bed but am too tired to read. Yes, Bejeweled is the equivalent of a warm glass of milk or sleeping pill for me, something PopCap probably won’t use as a bullet point in their features list.

In terms of presentation there’s nothing to really complain about here — the screen is bright and clear, controls work well and I’ve never noticed any performance issues. It’s a match-3 game and they are generally pretty hard to screw up. The one graphical failing is that the yellow gems, when they are turned into fire gems, look too much like orange gems.

The worst thing about the gameplay is the randomness. There’s no way to see what gems are coming up so you can only plan based on what is on the board at the moment and unless you’re in Zen mode the game will eventually give you nothing to match at some arbitrary point. You can delay the inevitable by keeping a hypercube in your pocket (made by matching five gems) because that matches with any gem adjacent to it and usually opens up enough of the board to present new combinations.

Compared to the now-pulled Bejeweled 2, this version (based on the PC Bejeweled 3) lacks the standard timed mode, which I enjoyed as a change of pace and replaces it with Diamond Mine, which would be more intriguing if the difficulty didn’t ramp up almost immediately. In Diamond mine you must dig down and uncover artifacts to keep the game going but because the random mechanics are still in place and you have a timer, it’s all too easy to quickly have no viable moves. This mode more than any seems to rely on sheer luck and the added depth of the gameplay is short-circuited by randomness.

Butterfly mode was added recently and it’s always nice to see new content show up in a game you already own. The idea is interesting — random colored butterflies appear at the bottom and move one row up each time you make a move. If a butterfly reaches the top it is eaten by a spider and the game ends. So far so good. But there are two problems affecting this mode. The first is the same randomness. Too much of the game is simply out of your control. Making matters worse, the number of butterflies increases very quickly, making it even more difficult to find viable means to clear them. On the plus side, it may actually make you better at the base game because you need to use all the strategies in Butterfly mode to simply keep advancing. It’s not enough to match three, you must also work out ways to get butterflies to collapse back down instead of reaching the top, create chain reactions to take out multiple butterflies and so on. It’s a shame there is no difficulty setting because the games are ultimately too short to be satisfying.

In the base game the addition of glowing gems, created by intersecting two groups of three, is a nice addition. Match a glowing gem to two others of the same color and you get a satisfying cross-shaped explosion. It’s even better when one triggers another. In fact, explosions may be the best thing about Bejeweled. Matching two hypercubes ‘fries’ the entire board and gives you the hypercubes back, too. This is part of a major improvement over 2. In previous versions it was very easy to accidentally blow up stuff you were laying out. In this edition explosions have been restricted to adjacent gems only, so you can be a lot more precise and if you create a special gem in an explosion it will still be there after. Who knew improving explosions would be the best thing in a Bejeweled game?

Profiles, stats, achievements and leaderboards (local only) round out the presentation and all are presented well. There is also the Blitz mode that ties in with Facebook but I do not play Facebook games because they make my teeth itch, so I can’t offer any opinion there.

Overall, this is ultimately a slickly-presented but shallow match-3 game. At some point the game will decide it’s time for you to lose. Sometimes it’s on the second level, sometimes it’s on the 14th. But as a ‘I’m in bed and kind of sleepy but would like to engage my brain in some small way’ Bejeweled is A-OK. It’s available on the App Store for 99 cents.