Bejeweled Blitz LIVE Review
Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: PopCap Games
Available On: Xbox LIVE Arcade Only
The latest addition to the mighty Bejeweled series, Bejeweled Blitz LIVE is the XBOX Live Arcade incarnation of Bejeweled Blitz, which began life as a Facebook application. It features Bejeweled’s famous “Match 3” gameplay mechanic, but boils it down into fast-paced matches lasting only a minute.
Whilst the focus is still on compulsive gamplay and racking up a high score, the big selling point for Bejeweled Blitz LIVE is the fact it allows you to compete in simultaneous battles, either locally or in a party of up to 16 other players. But it is worth your time and money? Read on to find out!
GRAPHICS: Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the game, and certainly the one that benefits most from the move to the Xbox 360. In contrast to its bright but flat appearence in its browser days, Bejeweled Blitz LIVE practically glistens with high production values. The gems look and feel genuinely solid, and even though there’s no physics that affects gameplay, the gems tinkle pleasingly as rows disappear and new ones tumble into place.
Explosions as a result of detonating special gems are especially satisfying. Resembling flashes of powerful lightning that cause chain reactions across the grid, these dizzying blasts have the potential to obscure the entire field of play with beautifully rendered pyrotechnics. Rather than proving an annoyance, explosions are exhilerating as they correspond with the hyperactive ascension of your score.
The ancillary graphics are predictably flashy too. The timer looms large in all modes of play, resembling the kind of rapidly depleting health bar that all gamers have been conditioned to fear. Menus are smooth and glossy, and the overall aesthetic is one of techno-chaos.
It’s also worth mentioning that gameplay takes place in front of a constantly pulsating backdrop of phsychedelic swirls that betrays the game’s browser-based origins. The nature of the game means that a large proportion of the screen is essentially wasted space, something that acts as a constant reminder that Bejeweled Blitz initially found success as a seductive procrastination tool. There’s no inherent problem with this, but unlike the original Bejeweled Blitz, you can’t minimize Bejeweled Blitz LIVE and pretend that you’re working.
SOUND: The sound effects fare better than the accompanying music. On the one hand, the clinking of moving gems compliments the polished graphics and gives them an added weight. Likewise, the visceral boom of explosions is genuinely satisfying.
On the other hand, the soundtrack that plays alongside the action is an endlessly looped track of derivative electronic music which sounds like it came right out of the PS1 era. Admittedly, the game does not “progress” in the way the classic Bejewled does, so the old video game audio trick of increasing the soundtrack’s tempo with the difficulty would be out of place. But it’s a little tiresome to have to listen to the same track over and over again, so it seems strange that PopCap’s budget couldn’t stretch to recording a few more tunes.
GAMEPLAY: The object of the game is simple. You are faced with an 8 x 8 grid of gems in seven different colours, which you have to move around in order to match three of the same colour in a row, to make them disappear. Create a row of four or more and you are granted a special explosive gem which causes destructive mayhem and enormous high scores if you manage to incorporate it into another move.
Bejeweled Blitz LIVE actually features two main modes of gameplay, “Classic” and “Twist”. Both are variations on the Match 3 theme, but whereas “Classic” only requires you to swap two adjacent gems, “Twist” allows you to rotate clusters of four. “Twist” is more challenging, but it allows for a more strategic and flexible gameplay approach.
The most impressive feature of “Classic” is the way in which PopCap have circumnavigated the slightly awkward method which previous incarnations of Bejeweled required players to use to select the gems they wish to swap. Rather than requiring the player to select two separate gems, the cursor only highlights one gem at a time, allowing the player to simply use the Y/X/A/B buttons to select the direction (up/down/right/left) in which they want to swap gems. This is an extremely intuitive and fluid control system which cuts down greatly on the number of mistakes you are likely to make. In a game which only lasts for sixty seconds, this is a welcome development.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer experience on which the game made its name is sorely disappointing, and manages to negate most of the game’s other qualities. Sitting down next to a friend to play a split-screen battle was an extremely frustrating experience because you may as well be playing entirely different games.
The joys of gaming with another person, be it versus or co-operative, is the way that your actions and decisions impact upon the other person’s experience, and vice-versa. However, because nothing you do in Bejeweled Blitz LIVE affects the other person, you may find playing this game with a friend to be a rather alienating experience. During a local battle, each player is assigned their own “board” of gems, and the two just play simultaneously alongside each other. Most of the time, you forget you’re competing with anyone until the end of each 60-second round when the scores are tallied.
The other issue with multiplayer is the fact that the length of each round and the size of the game board means that the likelihood of achieving a high score is just as dependent on luck as it is skill. The random placement of gems has a large bearing on your score, to the point where Bejeweled Blitz LIVE is one of the few puzzle games that rewards button-mashing. This robs the two-player mode of almost all its suspense.
The 16-player online battle mode fares a little better, mainly because you don’t have to handle the existential despair that comes from sitting next to a person that you aren’t engaging with. It is also a format that is improved with more participants because the random element of the game becomes perpetually less influential as more players are introduced.
LONGEVITY: In that the action is conpulsive and addictive, Bejewelled Blitz LIVE arguably never gets old. There’s no disputing the visceral joy of exploding the special gems or lining up a long row for a massive score, and because the game never “ends”, you could go on accumulating higher and higher scores forever.
The random aspect and the fact the the gameplay never develops mean you never really feel like you’re achieving anything. Unlike the original Bejeweled, there is no sense of progress, only the gradual passing of time, and by extension, your life.
VERDICT: Bejeweled Blitz LIVE might be fun, good looking and very well executed, but it still seems like an odd use of the Xbox 360 processing power. Whilst Bejeweled Blitz made perfect sense in the corner of a browser during your lunch break, Bejeweled Blitz LIVE doesn’t provide a good enough reason to come home after a hard day’s work and fire up the console.
The split-screen battle mode feels completely pointless, and considering the other games you could spend your 800 Microsoft points on, there’s nothing you can do to stop the nagging feeling that Bejeweled Blitz LIVE is a bit of a waste of time.