Ain't no doubt about it, PopCap are one of the most successful businesses on the App Store. With brilliant titles like Bejeweled, Peggle and Plants Vs Zombies to their credit, they're pretty much the market leaders in casual gaming. Therefore, when they decide to do something radical and potentially controversial with one of their key properties, you can bet that we'll be paying attention.
What have they done, exactly? They've withdrawn Bejewelled 2 + Blitz from the App Store and spun them off into two different games. Bejeweled now features improved graphics and an extra game mode ported over from Bejeweled 3 (stay with us), whilst the insanely popular Bejeweled Blitz is now a freemium game all by itself. It's a bold move, designed to refine their portfolio and channel players into two separate revenue streams.
How does it play?
The core game mechanic remains the same; match 3 jewels of the same colour and symbol and they disappear from the game board, to be replaced by more jewels. Matches can be made horizontally or vertically. Match more than 3, and certain power-ups will come into play, increasing your chances for large chain combos and high scores.
The new and improved Bejeweled has three game modes; classic, zen, and diamond mine. The latter is the most radically different, where you use explosions generated by matching gems to clear away earth from the bottom of the screen. You'll be racing against the clock, but you'll also be uncovering an interesting artefact or two.
Bejeweled Blitz, by contrast, is the quick and dirty proposition for time-poor gamers. Score as many points as you can in just sixty seconds. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, you can compare your scores with your friends, based on weekly stats. This version has proven massively popular in recent years, so it's no surprise that PopCap have spun it off into a solo title.
Why do we like it?
For the continued success of the franchise, this split was a necessary step. Dropping numbered iterations from the Bejeweled games means that updates will be incremental to the core title, as opposed to releasing new games in the series that don't actually add anything. The diamond mine mode is a great addition, and should reignite the ardour of many lapsed bejewellers.
As for Bejewelled Blitz, this is a more audacious proposition. Sixty second chunks of playtime, together with bragging rights over your Facebook friends, makes the game more immediate and spontaneous than any other version. Strapping on a freemium model, where cash can be exchanged for gold to buy power-ups, should open up a whole new stream of revenue for PopCap.
So which should you play? Our preference is for Bejeweled, simply because we've always liked the contemplative nature of the original game. The space-age sound-track and visuals remain as trippy as ever. But then again, given that Bejeweled Blitz is free to download, you won't lose anything by giving that a shot either.
Bejeweled (69p) and Bejewelled Blitz (free) are available now on the App Store.