Bejeweled 3 offers a grab-bag of fun new modes that riff off of the popular match-3 core.

I’ll never forget being at a certain game developers’ conference several years ago and hearing one budding game designer stand up and ask the panel why anyone would ever want to buy more than one match-3 game. “Aren’t they all the same?” was the question he was asking. The answer is, of course, “no, far from it,” but here at Gamezebo we knew that already. Case in point is Bejeweled 3. After almost 10 years of Bejeweled, the latest title in the franchise still manages to give us new modes and variations to enjoy. Add to that crisp new high-res graphics and you have a sure fire winner for Bejeweled fanatics.

If you were a Bejeweled fan disappointed by the liberties that 2008′s Bejeweled Twist took with the core gameplay (replacing gem-swapping with rotating groups of gems), then you’ll be happy to learn that Bejeweled 3 returns to the classic formula as enjoyed in the original Bejeweled and Bejeweled 2. PopCap apparently learned its lesson about trying to reinvent the wheel and has instead focused on creating a batch of funky new tires for it.

Bejeweled 3

There are eight modes in Bejeweled 3; four are available immediately and the remaining four have to be unlocked. So how do you innovate on a match-3? Let’s take a look at what Bejeweled 3 has to offer and learn from the masters.

One of the centerpieces of the game is Quest Mode, a collection of 40 challenges that are each variations on the core Bejeweled idea. In Time Bomb, for example, you have to destroy a certain number of randomly-appearing bomb gems before they blow up – as they count down to zero in real time. In Balance the goal is to collect red and blue gems to balance a scale while making sure that neither scale tips too far in one direction, while in Sandstorm you must work quickly to uncover buried treasure before sand blows over it again.

Another highlight is the new Poker mode, a clever game of strategy where you make a poker hand by matching gems. Match three green gems, for example, and you’ll get a green gem card in your hand. Make another green match and you’ll have a pair of greens. Make another green match and two red matches and you’ll have a Full House.

I also really enjoyed Butterflies, a mode in which butterfly-shaped gems fly towards the top of the screen with each move, and you must match a certain number of them before they reach the spider lurking at the very top of the grid.

Bejeweled 3

In Diamond Mine mode the bottom part of the grid is buried in dirt, and by making matches next to the dirt you can dig down and unearth valuables to earn points. Ice Storm is a fast-paced mode where columns of ice are continually pushing their way up from the bottom of the screen. You must make matches to push them back down while filling up your score multiplier. Lightning Mode is similar to Facebook’s Bejeweled Blitz, where you have 1 minute to swap as many gems as possible and can earn more time by matching special Time Gems to add a few extra seconds to the clock.

If the game has a weak point, or rather a “what the…?!” point, it’s Zen mode. In most games “zen” is just another way of saying that a mode is endless and untimed. Bejeweled 3, however, goes all out by letting you replace the game music with soothing ambient sounds, display positive mantras like “My body is perfect right now,” or play binaural rhythms that are supposed to stimulate your brain somehow if you listen to them with headphones. There’s even a breathing modulation setting that tells you when to breathe in and out. Thankfully you can customize everything in this mode completely, so if you’d rather just sit and play a relaxed endless mode without all the pseudo-science mumbojumbo, you can toggle all of it off.

Bejeweled 3

There’s even good old Classic mode if you’re feeling nostalgic, but this time you can actually continue from where you left off instead of starting a new game every time. Yes, Bejeweled has entered the 21st century!

More accurately, Bejeweled 3 has entered the 21st century in all areas but one: the graphics. Sure, they’re now high-res, and there’s some pretty in-between level eye candy as the jewels shoot through a psychedelic tunnel before reassembling themselves in the new grid. Settings are customizable, too. If your computer can handle it, you can crank everything up to 1920×1200 resolution and enable 3D acceleration, custom cursors and animated backgrounds – or, turn all of it off and play in 800×600 resolution. But the gems are the same shapes and colors as in the original Bejeweled. I found myself yearning for, at the very least, a new color palette to look at – or a different set of gems, or perhaps some bonus unlockable tilesets to earn.

Bejeweled 3 is a return to form from the slight misstep that was Bejeweled Twist. Instead of trying to take one giant, lurching step forward, it instead offers a grab-bag of fun Bejeweled variations that introduce some freshness without straying too far from the formula that made the original such a huge hit.