With more than 350 million copies downloaded and more than 25 million units sold, PopCap’s Bejeweled games are without question the most popular casual game franchise of our time. Little did the developers know in 2000, when Diamond Mine launched (later to be renamed Bejeweled), this simple yet addictive puzzler would spawn countless clones, sequels and spin-offs for multiple platforms.

As you probably heard by now, PopCap is back with its most ambitious follow-up to date: Bejeweled Twist. Nearly four years in the making, this game attempts to reinvent the “match-3” genre. Did PopCap succeed? Yes and no. The core game-play isn’t as radically different from its predecessors as the Seattle-based company makes it out to be, but it’s also much more than just a cosmetic makeover. Fans of the franchise won’t be disappointed with this highly-polished game, but be forewarned it takes some time to appreciate all the depth and detail.

Rather than dragging adjacent gems on a board vertically or horizontally in order to make a match of at least three identical ones, Bejeweled Twist has players rotate a group of four gems (a 2×2 square), in a clockwise fashion, in order to create a line of three or more identical jewels. As with past Bejeweled games, do so causes those gems to disappear and new ones cascade down the board to fill its place.

Another difference is players do not need to make a match with every move as you did with its predecessors, though you’ll get a multiplier bonus if you can. Casual gamers might remember a very similar 4-gem clockwise spin mechanic in a game called Spacebound by Gamenauts, so this isn’t an original idea. This game also reminds me of Hexic (but with hexagonal tiles).

Depending on your mood, time or skill level, Bejeweled Twist offers four unique game modes to choose from the main menu (two of which need to be unlocked by playing well). The Classic mode is the main game, where you’ll progress through increasingly tough levels and frantically attempt to create a chain when you see a bomb countdown; if it reaches zero before you can use it in a group of three or more gems, you’ll see the gem spin around a wheel and hope it doesn’t land on a detonator icon, which means it’s game over.

In the Zen mode, you can relaxingly advance through colorful levels at your leisure, without any time pressure or obstacles (more on this below). The opposite of Zen is the frantic Blitz mode, where you have just five minutes to see how high of a score you can rack up before the counter hits zero. This can be achieved with combos, chains, power-ups and other strategies that set up 4, 5 or 6 gems in a row (or more!).

Finally, you can sharpen your skills for the Blitz mode in the Challenge mode, which offers a dozen separate puzzle worlds for you to try (each with seven levels of difficulty and a final infinite stage). Examples of challenges include destroying eight gems in one move or making three red matches in a row.

Gamers will be able to use power-ups to their advantage, such as the glowing “flame” gem created by matching four gems at once (which causes a small explosion in the area, destroying surrounding gems for you) while the “lightning” gem, created by matching five gems at once, blows up everything in the entire vertical column and horizontal row the gem is in. The speed bonus is cool to discover, too

Even better, “fruit” gems are a rare treat that can only be made by performing multiple (and consecutive) matches to max out the chain meter and then, when detonated, destroys all same-colored gems. On a related note, obstacles will stand in your way such as pieces of coal (that can’t be matched), chained jewels (that can’t be rotated unless matched with surrounding gems) and the aforementioned bomb gens.

It would be remiss not to mention the outstanding production values in Bejeweled Twist, including spectacular between-level sequences (where a spaceship flies to the next spot in outer space), bright and colorful gem pieces and eye-candy explosions after a power-up is used. The ambient music is fitting, but I’m still not much of a fan of the “low voice dude” who says words here and there.

As fun as Bejeweled Twist is, however, if your experience with the game is the same as mine, you’ll play for a few minutes and say “ok, this is alright, but it’s more or less the same game.” Truly, at PopCap’s launch party for this title I thought to myself, “this is good but after four years and all this hype I expected more.”

I also found it annoying that if you land on a detonator icon, it’s "Game Over" and you have to start from the beginning. It would be nice to have the option in Classic mode to go back to the beginning of the same level if you die.

But a funny thing happens the more you play: you can’t stop. This is especially true as you begin to unlock new areas and power-ups and discover little goodies like a matching bonus if you can mimic the gem order as presented in the lower left-hand portion of the screen.

This game will grow on you, push you to continuously beat your score and between all of its game modes offers virtually unlimited replayability. Is it as refreshingly different as Peggle? No. This is Bejeweled folks, just with a new “twist.” Yes, perhaps we expected more after all this time but the PopCap magic is indeed here – it might just take you a while to find it.