You might not know this, but Microsoft and Bejeweled go way back. PopCap created the very first version in Flash in 2001, originally calling it Diamond Mine. When Microsoft hosted the game at its MSN gaming site, the two parties agreed to change the title to Bejeweled, a name that has now become synonymous with the match-3 puzzle genre.
Windows Phone 7 launched with Bejeweled Live, a decent but overpriced ($5!) port of the game with only three game modes. Considering that Bejeweled on iPhone and iPad each include five modes for only one dollar, the original Bejeweled Live has always represented a poor value proposition.
Thankfully, PopCap has finally made good with Bejeweled Live+, essentially a port of the iOS version. A timed Nokia exclusive, it has a two dollar markup on Windows Phone 7 and 8. But three dollars doesn’t sting too badly when we’re talking about the finest pure puzzle game on the platform.
Once more into the mines
By now, just about every gamer should understand Bejeweled’s core gameplay. Match three or more gems of the same color by sliding a single gem horizontally or vertically. More gems then fall into the field, and the process repeats until the game ends. It’s simple and addictive, more so thanks to PopCap’s typically great sound effects.
Matching gems in a skillful way (or by happy accident) can produce some helpful special gems. Four in a row make a Flame Gem that destroys all gems within a small radius when matched. Make a T, L, or Plus to create a Star Gem that clears an entire column or row when matched. Matches of five gems in a row make the all-powerful Hypercube. Swapping the ‘cube with another gem will destroy all gems of that color. Finally, the very rare six gem matches make a Supernova gem that clears a large portion of the screen.
Five ways to play
Bejeweled Live+ includes several modes, some of which originated in Bejeweled 3 for XBLA and PC. That game’s Quest, Ice Storm, and Poker are not found here, nor is Bejeweled Blitz, which sells as a separate game on iOS. Scores achieved in any mode contribute to an overall player level, but that level doesn’t unlock anything (not even an Achievement), making it kind of a worthless feature.
The original, un-timed game mode (pictured above) in which matches fill up a meter at the bottom of the screen. Once the meter fills, you move on to a new level with a fresh set of gems. The game ends when you can’t make any more matches.
A timed mode highly reminiscent of Bejeweled Blitz. You start with 60 seconds to make as many matches as possible, always in pursuit of a higher score. Matching special Time Gems adds more time, so don’t miss them! Eventually time runs out and the game ends.
Another timed mode that I find the most addictive overall. The goal is to dig deep below the ground and find various artifacts buried therein. Matching gems adjacent to the dirt will eliminate that dirt, though some tough spots take two matches to clear.
You start with precious little time, but clearing all of the dirt below a certain line gets you 25 more seconds. On the rare occasions when the entire field is clear of dirt, the game awards a big time bonus. I love Diamond Mine mode, but I wish time wasn’t always so short. Despite the high difficulty, I do find myself coming back again and again…
The Endless mode of Bejeweled Live becomes Zen mode in Live+. It plays just like Classic, but the there’s always at least one possible match and so the game never ends.
Zen offers some interesting options to enhance the tranquility of the experience. You can change the background music to various nature sounds, select textual mantras to pop up during gameplay, or enable a breathing modulation display. This causes a line to raise and lower on-screen in order to help you regulate your breathing. You do NOT want to get so into your Bejeweling that you forgot to breathe and drop dead, after all!
Want some challenge without a time limit? In this unique mode, colored butterflies spawn at the bottom of the screen. Each match you make causes the butterflies to go up one space. Matching a butterfly eliminates it, but another one will soon spawn. If any butterflies make it to the top of the screen, they get eaten by a spider and the game ends. The game counts how many butterflies you match, but the real goal is just to score as high as possible.
We can always count on two things from PopCap: their games will look pretty and sound even better. Bejeweled Live+ gets high marks on both fronts, but the sound impresses me most of all. The great sound effects are bolstered by the ethereal voice of Zachary Throne. His commentary could sound goofy on its own, and yet works perfectly in this game’s setting.
Better than all that: the music from composers Peter Hajba and Alexander Brandon. It has this haunting, electronic sound completely unlike any game music I’ve heard. Live+’s tunes come from the longer Bejeweled 3 soundtrack, which you can buy at Bandcamp.
Live+ is a great port, but the actual menus somehow got worse on the way to Windows Phone. On iPhone or iPad you’d find all of the game modes on the main menu, nice and easy to pick. But here, only here modes are on the main menu, with Zen and Butterflies tucked away under Bonus Games – a needless separation.
The Options menu isn’t found under the main menu’s Help & About, either. Instead, you have to press the up arrow at the bottom of the screen to view your profile. From there, you’ll find Stats and Options. The profile screen refers to the player as “Player” and shows a non-changeable Yellow gem as an avatar. It really should display the player’s Gamertag and Gamerpic or Xbox Live avatar.
PopCap always gives the Bejeweled series brutal, hardcore Achievements that are odds with the games’ casual nature. The first Bejeweled Live for instance had an Achievement for matching one million gems, a feat that took an insane 150-200 hours of grinding.
Live+ fares slightly better, as its only grinding Achievements are for destroying a far more reasonable 400 Star Gems and 400 Hypercubes. You can easily knock these out in Diamond Mine mode where they occur more frequently, though it will still take a few hours.
That said, this one still has several Achievements tied to unreasonably high scores and challenges. You’ll have to do insanely well in Lightning and Diamond Mine modes. Butterfly mode has a couple of tough ones too, but they’re more attainable by comparison. A huge part of doing well in these modes comes from luck, so you could spend countless hours in one and play your best but come away with no Achievements for your trouble.
All told, only 20 people have completed Live+’s Achievements.
Bejeweled Live+ puts the first Bejeweled Live to shame. It has way more content and yet costs two dollars less, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the original game gets de-listed whenever Live+ becomes available to non-Nokia users. Heck, Live+ even trumps the recently released Bejeweled Live for Windows 8 as well since that one lacks Lightning and Zen modes.
Among the Xbox Windows Phone lineup, the only puzzle game that can possibly match Live+ is Puzzle Quest 2. Namco Bandai’s offering takes the same core gameplay and adds a story and RPG elements. On the other hand, it’s much longer than it needs to be and doesn’t even support Fast App Switching. If I could choose only one puzzler for mobile play, it would be Bejeweled Live+.
Bejeweled Live+ - Windows Phone 7 or 8 - $2.99 – 53 MB – Store Link (Nokia exclusive)