Also available on: N/A
Publisher: PopCap Games
Developer: PopCap Games
Bejeweled Blitz Live is the second game to be released as part of the House Party season on Xbox Live Arcade and - due to its emphasis on intense, fast-paced, online multiplayer - it's also perhaps the most fitting of the games to be released under the party banner. However, with Bejeweled 2 already available on Xbox Live - and more recently as part of puzzle compendium PopCap Hits! - and Bejeweled Blitz available to play for free on Facebook, is the latest version of the 60-second gem-blaster really necessary? Considering that it costs 800 Microsoft Points (£6.80 / $10) to download, doesn't appear to contain a great deal of content and seemingly suffers from some control issues, the initial response would be no. However, take it online and sample its social features and it soon becomes another time-zapping, jewel-encrusted treat from the kings of casual gaming, PopCap.
First things first, Bejeweled Blitz Live isn't a proper sequel to previous Xbox Live release Bejeweled 2 and as such, doesn't contain the wealth of game modes found in the recent PC release Bejeweled 3. Instead, it's a spinoff of the main series which focuses on short, speedy games of Bejeweled lasting 60 seconds. There are two different ways to play the game, either Classic or Twist. In Classic mode players attempt to match and destroy three gems of the same colour by moving adjacent gems either horizontally or vertically. This is made more difficult by the fact that gems can only be moved if they can be matched, so it can feel like a word search at times, with players scanning the gaming grid looking for the next move. Extra points can be scored by creating combos, or by utilising special gems which are capable of destroying everything in close proximity, whole rows and columns of gems or everything on-screen of the same colour - in the case of the devastating Hypercube. Thankfully, with the clock running down fast, PopCap has included a hint system - which takes a few seconds to charge between use - and there are various multipliers and speed bonuses for players who are on a roll.
As with all frantic, fast-paced games against the clock, precision is crucial, and the major concern when using the Xbox 360 pad is that it won't be speedy and accurate enough to match the pace of the game. To a certain extent this is true, especially in the first few goes, which will see players overshoot the cursor when attempting to highlight a specific gem, costing valuable seconds and heavily reducing the score. However, it doesn't take long to learn the cursor sensitivity and get to grips with the modified controls, which use the buttons on the pad to replicate the direction players want to move each gem - the A button moves a gem down, while the Y button moves a gem up, for example. The use of buttons to make moves is much more effective than the highlight and drag method found in Bejeweled 2 and goes a long way to make up for the fact that Bejeweled Blitz Live can't be played with a mouse or stylus.
A little more instantly intuitive is the control scheme in rotational-based game Twist. In Twist, players score points the same way as in Classic mode, but do so by rotating groups of four gems clockwise (B button) or anti-clockwise (X button). The other big difference is that in Twist, players can move gems whenever and wherever they like, which to a certain extent eliminates the element of luck found in Classic mode. Surprisingly, this makes it a slightly less rewarding experience, because in Twist mode, once players have figured out the patterns and formulas needed to create special gems and combos, it's far easier to make that happen and get a better score, while bad moves can essentially be erased with a quick rotation in the opposite direction. It remains incredibly addictive, but is undoubtedly the lesser of the two versions.
In addition to the excellent gameplay, high-score tables have also been a big part of the game's success on Facebook. Thankfully, this is where this version really shines, with a whole manner of leaderboard filter options able to show players how they are faring against their friends, as well as against the wider public in weekly and overall high-score tables. For more direct and immediate competition, there's also a one-on-one Battle mode, which can be played online or locally. Singles matches take place side by side and are won by the player with a combination of the highest score, most impressive playing style and number of jewels detonated. Winning two out of three of these categories results in victory, although it's usually a given that the player with the highest score got there by detonating more gems or by creating more combos.
The 16-player Party mode is the final way to play and has the potential to become the most socially enjoyable gaming experience known to man, especially when everybody has a headset. Each game is played the same way as a typical single player offering, but the side of the screen displays each player's gamer picture in bubble format and shows how they are doing compared with the competition. The game can be played over and over again, with the aim to climb the board ahead of the other participants. It's a shame that the mode doesn't feature much in the way of customisable features or additional rules and bonuses, but it does have that "one more time" quality, with positions changing frequently after one or two good or bad games.
With its abundance of social and competitive features, Bejeweled Blitz Live is possibly the most addictive version of PopCap's classic puzzle game to date. The controls take a little getting used to, but thanks to the button mapping, they are probably the best they can be without using a mouse or stylus. The online leaderboards, Battle and Party modes ensure that players will come back time and time again, despite not having the range of game modes that can be found in fully-fledged sequel Bejeweled 3. In short, this is the most frantic, intense and socially competitive version of Bejeweled on the market and a must for fans of the series and puzzle-addicts in general.
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