Bejeweled 3 (Review)

“PopCap goes back to their roots to give us a good reminder as to how they own our souls.”

It has been several years since Bejeweled was really even on the tip of anyone’s tongue, and after PopCap soared to even greater heights from the success of Peggle and Plants vs Zombies, it seemed like a strange idea for them to decide that making a Bejeweled 3 was the most logical next step for them to make. I was skeptical at first, but after playing the latest Bejeweled I can safely say that I’ve laid my doubts to rest.

Bejeweled 3 is everything we know and love from the numbered Bejeweled titles and more. While Bejeweled 2 prided itself in having two game modes as well as one or two hidden bonus modes, Bejeweled 3 boasts four standard modes and four bonus modes. This gives you quite a substantial variety in terms of how you’re going to play with your shiny little gems.

Classic mode is what we’re all familiar with. Break as many gems by aligning three or more of a kind together and amass as many points from doing so before you end up with no more possible moves. This mode has received little if any upgrades at all, but still somehow feels fresh. I attribute this to the improved graphics and catchy soundtrack.

The time attack mode in Bejeweled 3 is called “Lightning” and is fairly addicting. While the idea is to get the highest score possible before time runs out, it is now possible to extend your timer by breaking specific gems that grant time bonuses. They are plentiful at first, but as the time gems become more and more rare, Lightning becomes a very nerve-wracking experience.

Lining out the rest of the default game modes are Zen, which allows you to play for an infinite length of time without losing, and the Quest mode. I like the latter as it presents challenges to you that are always different from the last one that you tackled. There are quite a few quests to blow through and, predictably, they get harder as they go.

The four bonus modes are Butterflies, Diamond Mine, Ice Storm, and Poker. They all add quite a twist to the gameplay, and one of them I find to be so addicting that it could be it’s own game.

In Butterflies, random gems are designated as butterflies. These butterfly gems must be destroyed before they reach the top of the screen, due to a hungry spider lingering along the top of the game board. if the spider gets his eight legs on one of your butterflies, it’s game over. Butterflies starts off easy enough, but I found that it quickly became very frustrating and tense, and I haven’t enjoyed playing it much.

Diamond Mine is easily my favourite part of Bejeweled 3 and is the addicting part that I mentioned. In this mode, the bottom half of the screen is covered in dirt and the top half contains gems. You have to create combinations that are directly adjacent to the dirt, which destroys it. Players must get rid of all the dirt above a certain goal line. When all dirt above the line is cleared, the timer (which I forgot to mention) fills back up and the dirt increases yet again. It’s a fairly repetitive game mode that just involves doing the same thing over and over, but it’s very strategic and I like how there is always a very clear goal for the player.

In Ice Storm, there are pillars of ice that slowly fill to the top of the screen. If one reaches the top and stays there for a moment, it’s game over. To prevent this from happening, players must make gem combinations, which destroys or lowers the ice pillars in whatever columns the gems were matched in.

Poker is a very interesting mode and I commend PopCap for coming up with such a neat idea, but overall this game mode isn’t very enjoyable. The goal is to make various poker hands using the gems on the board. The better the hand, the better your score. The problem with this mode is that it mostly forces you to constantly try for four of a kind of flushes. I found that this limited what I wanted to do in the game mode, and really wasn’t too enjoyable.

Aside from game modes, Bejeweled 3 doesn’t really change a whole lot aside from a new paint job and an improved soundtrack. There are fiery gems that destroy entire horizontal and vertical lines of gems, which is a pretty interesting change. Hypercubes also received a very nice visual upgrade as well.

There are various badges to collect (consider them to be the game’s equivalent to PS3 trophies or 360 achievements), but they are pointless and do not affect anything from what I’ve noticed. Perfectionists may want to try to collect them all, though.

So that’s it. Bejeweled 3 is, well, Bejeweled. If you didn’t like the previous games then you probably won’t enjoy this one either. However, if you do enjoy Bejeweled, then this game will probably amuse you, and the neat bonus modes will provide you with some much needed variety.

Final Score

8.4/10

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Gyromancer (Review)

“PopCap and and Square Enix team up to create the successor to Bejeweled.”

Successor to Bejeweled, you say? Very much so. Gyromancer is collaboration between PopCap Games and Square Enix, and is admittedly a fairly unique experience, combining the successful puzzle formula of Bejeweled with interesting RPG mechanics. Can PopCap’s Bejeweled formula really mesh well with the RPG obsessed Square Enix? Well, I’ll tell you.

The game opens in the typical epic and flashy manner that all Square Enix RPGs do, though this really is a puzzle game at heart. This can easily be forgotten when you click the new game option and are immediately thrust into a story starring a young mage named Rivel who sets out to capture a man named Quraist Kingsley after he assassinates a member of the royal family.

After you are treated to a few story sequences, you get to play through a tutorial level with Rivel. Each level is essentially a series of paths on the screen which lead to treasure chests, monsters, and other such things. The player moves Rivel by clicking along the dotted path, telling the hero where to go. Upon encountering a monster, the game transitions to the battle screen which looks like a cross between Bejeweled and Puzzle Quest. Like in Bejeweled Twist, the player can only move blocks by rotating them in a clockwise direction. The objective is still to make lines of four identical blocks, which increases your attack gauge. By filling up your attack gauge, you can unleash damaging attacks upon your opponent, which depletes their hit points. You will actually conduct these “battles” with self-selected monsters which each have an affinity towards certain coloured blocks. For example, the firebreathing wyrm monster that you can use likes red blocks. If you destroy more red blocks in your combinations, your gauge bars will fill up faster, which puts a special gem into the playing field which, when destroyed, unleashes the attacks specific to whatever monster you are using.

The opponent has their own attacks as well. Each time the player rotates a group of blocks, the opponent’s own gauge bars will fill up slightly. When their bars are full, their own special gems will be deployed. If the player does not destroy these within a set number of turns, then they will be attacked and lose their own hit points. Obviously the point of each “battle” is to create as many beneficial combinations as possible so that you can attack the enemy frequently, thus overpowering them and defeating them.

You will want to win each battle quickly, since there are many monsters in each stage. Luckily, you are allowed to enter each stage with three monsters. If one perishes, it simply has to sit out for the rest of the stage. If you lose all three monsters, then you are removed from the stage after incurring a slight penalty and are then free to try again. Each stage typically ends with a boss fight, followed by a cutscene which progresses the story which, unfortunately, isn’t very gripping or exciting.

The artwork in the game is quite nice to look at, and I am under the impression that Square Enix probably handled most of the artwork. While the stages never look terribly interesting, battle sequences are the opposite. Monster portraits look spectacular and very threatening, and the animations caused by gems being swapped and special attacks being performed are quite good too. Character artwork is also very nice looking and is certainly above average.

The game’s music was written by Tsuyoshi Sekito, who has been involved in several Square-Enix games over the years. The music is actually very good, and sounds like it came straight out of a console RPG from Japan. Many of the tracks sound like they drew inspiration from games such as Final Fantasy Tactics, or perhaps Final Fantasy XII. Since the composer has worked on the Final Fantasy series, this isn’t terribly surprising. Overall, it makes for a wonderful soundtrack to listen to while playing what is essentially a puzzle game on steroids.

Fans of Bejeweled, Puzzle Quest, or Square-Enix games should find an ample amount to enjoy in this game, as it masterfully combines two genres, resulting in a very fun and interesting collaboration project. For a much cheaper price than commercial games, you can’t go wrong.

Final Score

8.4/10

Peggle Series (Review)

“For fans of Breakout, Pinball and Puzzle Bobble, this is as good as it gets.”

In 2007, PopCap released a little puzzle game that borrowed gameplay elements from several other popular games. This game would come to be known as Peggle, and would be ported to various consoles over time and, in 2008, spawned a sequel called Peggle Nights.

Rather than just reviewing the original Peggle or the sequel, or even any specific version, I’m reviewing every Peggle game instead because, face it, there are very few differences between any of them. Peggle Nights barely even changed from the first game, but that’s not really a bad thing.

So, what is this “Peggle” all about? Well, it’s all about aiming a ball 180 degrees (half a circle) and firing it at coloured pegs. It sounds really simplistic, and it usually is. Simplicity does not equal easy, however.

There are two pegs, blue and orange. Blue pegs are more plentiful and increase your score exponentially. Orange pegs are not as plentiful, and this is because in order to clear a level, you have to shoot and destroy every orange peg.

There are two additional “special” pegs as well. The yellow pegs grant you special abilities and the purple pegs increases the points you will receive for hitting every other peg on the same shot.

Regarding special abilities, what you can use depends on the “animal helper” that you have. If you are playing adventure mode, then you are assigned a different one every ten levels, but if you are playing any other game mode than you can manually choose who to use. These animal chracters don’t serve a lot of purpose other than to give you a different looking avatar at the top of the screen and to grant you different power ups. The unicorn’s special will grant you super precise aiming while the dragon’s special replaces your regular ball with a fireball which demolishes every peg in it’s path.

Levels start out easy, but after clearing about twenty or thirty, the difficulty will jump up significantly. Peggle never gets so hard that you’ll have any rage quits or anything, but it can be difficult enough to challenge you a great deal and make you complain that your shot “shouldn’t have gone there” or “should have hit that peg” and so forth.

That reminds me of the physics. They are quite unpredictable in Peggle, even more than you’ll find in any Pinball game. In order to plot where the ball will go, you will have to stare long and hard at the screen. This isn’t very fun and, like most people, you’ll probably just take whatever shots look best without analyzing the trajectory of the ball too much.

Peggle really shines in multiplayer modes, which I think may only be in the console versions. Essentially, the person who ends up with a higher score will win the level. This means that the person who destroys all orange pegs won’t necessarily be the winner. A little bit of strategy is involved, and it’s good fun.

As I said in the header, anyone who likes Breakout, Pinball, or Puzzle Bobble should enjoy Peggle quite a lot. This game will appeal to many others though, considering the fact that it is a PopCap game. Go over to their website and download a free demo of whatever Peggle game you happen across first if you have never done so. Peggle is quite fun and should be enjoyable to almost everybody.

Final Score

7.9/10

Plants vs Zombies (Review)

“PopCap’s latest smash hit is their finest work yet.”

I have long enjoyed PopCap’s modestly priced puzzle games, ever since the first Bejeweled. After Bejeweled 2 and Peggle, I began to believe that PopCap could not be topped in the realm of puzzle games. While this is probably true, I never expected them to expand into another genre and make themselves very, very comfortable. Last year, PopCap released Plants vs Zombies, a tower defense based strategy game that may just be not only the finest tower defense game ever, but also PopCap’s best game to date.

There’s not much of a story to tell. In Plants vs Zombies, you take the role of a suburban home owner in a neighborhood that is being invaded by zombies. The zombies, naturally, want to break into your house and eat your brain. Where this game gets weird is with the introduction of your yard full of plants which you must use to stop the zombies from reaching your house. I don’t believe they ever explain why your garden comes to life, but I suspect it is probably a side effect of the zombies being brought back to life from the dead. Throughout the game, you’ll “bond” with your clinically insane neighbor who gives you tips on how to beat the zombies.

Plants vs Zombies is not a difficult game to learn. Players must plant sunflowers which provide them with sun points. These points work like money. Each plant that you can deploy costs a certain number of points, and when you have enough, you are able to plant one in your yard. There are many different kinds of zombies, ranging from zombies with buckets on their heads, to pogo stick riding zombies, and finally, Michael Jackson look-a-likes who call upon dancer zombies. To combat all of these zombies, you’ll need to use your head and deply the appropriate plants. Pogo stick zombies leap over plants and straight towards your house, but by setting a large walnut down, the pogo zombie will bump into them and fall down. It is not uncommon to see the odd zombie or two appear on a zamboni in later levels, which mow down all plans in whatever row they are making their way down. How do you stop that? Set down a spikeweed and it will pop the zamboni’s tires. Almost every zombie has a weakness like this, while many plants do not work well against particular zombies. Using the right plants at the right times is very important and, in some cases, is the key to sucess. Later levels make the player adjust to having a foggy night yard, a pool in the center rows of the yard, and eventually even fighting off the zombies on your roof. Some levels combine many themes, such as a foggy yard with a pool at night. These levels force the player to think much more than normal and work in the game’s favour.

Graphics, as they are in most PopCap games, are completely two dimensional and very friendly even on aged computers. Even on maximum settings, this game should still be silky smooth on older systems while still looking very nice. It’s worth noting that the plants are drawn very well, with most of them possessing a sort of cute charm. Zombies, despite their silly designs, look fantastic as the shamble towards you. When the stage is full of many different kinds of plants and zombies and the action becomes hectic is when this game truly shines and, for a two dimensional bargain game, looks absolutely fantastic as your plants all fire their own respective projectiles, breaking off of the approaching horde of zombies.

One area which this game truly shines in is the sound department. PopCap did a stellar job with the sound effects for Plants vs Zombies, as I don’t recall ever hearing a single sound that I disliked or found annoying to any degree. Everything sounds pretty good, especially the moans from the zombies, who also occasionally utter “brains” like any respectful zombie would. The music is, more or less, all well above the average benchmark. Though there is a playful, silly nature to most of the music tracks in this game, there is also a sense of dread and urgency layered in each track as the action picks up. It’s great music for a tower defense game. It all just sounds so silly and never takes itself seriously, but still manages to convey a serious threatening tone as the zombies approach. If Tim Burton ever made a tower defense game, this would be the soundtrack.

In terms of replayability, there’s lots to do. After completing the main game, you can replay it again and have your neighbor play a larger role by choosing your plants for you. There are also minigames and survival exercises, as well as a relaxing zen garden. You can also pick up coins throughout the game which you can use to spend in Crazy Dave’s shop to purchase new plants and upgrades. Even after beating the game, I found that there was still several hours worth of content still waiting for me.

Overall, Plants vs Zombies is just plain fantastic. It is currently my favourite PopCap game as well as my favourite tower defense game. The game is a blast to play and the atmosphere is very immersive for a game of this kind. If you are a fan of PopCap or even just tower defense games, you owe it to yourself to give this gem a try. At only $10 on Steam, you really can’t go wrong. Alternatively, you can also pick this game up on your iPod Touch or iPhone, and I can’t think of a better way to spend your time on the go!

Final Score

8.5/10