A cell phone game for your iPod? Heavily inspired by Sega’s classic arcade and home game Columns, which was itself derived from Nintendo and Elorg’s Tetris, PopCap Games and Astraware’s Bejeweled ($5) would be “yet another game where blocks fall from the sky, waiting to be matched up,” but for a few twists. Here, the blocks wait to be matched while sitting inside an 8 by 8 grid, replentishing every time you link three or more same-colored blocks. To make the match, you have to find two like-colored blocks in need of being connected to a third, then find that third block in a position one block away from the first two. Press the third block one block over, create your match, and move along; the gap created by the matched blocks is filled with new blocks, which slide down from the sky and may create chain matches in the process. Time-pressured and clock-free modes are available. [Updated July 23, 2008: We have added a new section to this September 25, 2006 review with information on the iPhone/iPod touch version of Bejeweled 2, as well as updated rating information. Please see the end of this review for the new details.]
From an audiovisual standpoint, Bejeweled is only modestly impressive. Its jewel-shaped blocks look pretty much the same as they have on cell phones and computers for the past couple of years, the music is inoffensive, and the only special effects on display are cool 3-D tunnel-like transitions between levels. Similarly, its gameplay doesn’t hold a candle to a good game of Tetris, or even Sega’s Columns for that matter. But it’s a good time-waster, and easy enough for anyone to play – especially with an optional hints system that clues you in to potential next moves – though beginner modes with fewer gems (7 are on by default) would make for even more fun, early on. The only buyer who will find Bejeweled deeply disappointing is the one looking for something deeper.
On a final note, developer Astraware deserves a couple of brownie points for innovating in a new and smart way with the iPod’s Click Wheel controller. In addition to touch-sensitive scrolling, required to move your cursor around to select blocks (a sub-optimal way of moving, in our view), you can lightly tap (rather than depressing) up, down, left, or right to move the selected block for a match in that direction. After a few minutes of adjustment, this light tapping concept makes Bejeweled easier to play than it otherwise might have been on the iPod. Additional user-selectable control schemes would have been even better.
Bejeweled 2 for iPhone/iPod touch
Though its name is different from its iPod Game predecessor Bejeweled, Bejeweled 2 ($10) by PopCap Games is basically the same game at twice the price with a new coat of paint. Some of the post-level special effects lost in the transition from iPod 5G to classic and nano have been restored and enhanced, while in-game graphics have been updated for the iPhone’s screen. You can flip the iPhone on its side to play the game in widescreen mode, or keep it upright for vertical play; the experience is the same in both cases. Music is included and iPod audio pre-emptive.
Apart from price, the only major changes from Bejeweled to Bejeweled 2 are the newer version’s inclusion of Power Gems – bombs created when you match four of the same gem in a row rather than just three, detonating on a follow-up match – plus multi-gem eliminating Hyper Cubes, and touch-sensitive controls, all of which make matching gems easier than in the prior iPod version. You can switch between a countdown timer mode and a count-up timer mode, the former designed to put more pressure on you to quickly make matches, but the gameplay is otherwise the same from mode to mode. Had PopCap not charged such a premium for this title, which was barely worth the original $5 on the iPod and is certainly not worth $10 on the iPhone, it would have received a higher recommendation on account of its better AV experience, but as-is, our rating remains the same; there are now many other similar titles available for the iPhone at lower prices.
Company and Price
Company: PopCap Games
Price: $5 (iPod), $10 (iPhone)
Compatible: iPod 5G, classic, nano, touch, iPhone