I unexpectedly lost 30 minutes of my life today to Bejeweled Blitz. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve sacrificed countless hours to PopCap’s free Facebook game before. But I’ve never wasted time with it as passionately (or as consecutively) as I just did.
In case you aren’t familiar with it, Bejeweled Blitz is a free-to-play Flash version of PopCap’s classic match-three puzzle game. The rules are simple: play Bejeweled for 60 seconds. An always-on, always-visible leaderboard displays your Facebook friends’ scores, but leaderboards reset every Tuesday. And when they restart, so restarts the quest for puzzle game dominance over your friends. Er, “friends”.
The Blitz formula is an intoxicating one: limiting the gameplay to one minute is perhaps the most sinister and calculated exploitation I’ve ever seen of the “just one more round” mentality. It’s almost disgustingly addictive, and when it first came out, it more or less dominated my life for around a month. Eventually, though, the addiction waned, and I got it down to only posting a score every week or two.
That era is over.
This week, PopCap relaunched Bejeweled Blitz, and the spark has been reignited. The graphics have been updated, the gameplay has been radically revamped (or as radically as you can change a match-three game), and the enormous time-consuming sinkhole has reopened beneath us all.
Maybe the most obvious gameplay change is the addition of a new gem: the Star Gem. Earned by matching 5 gems in an “L” or “T” shape, the Star Gem will destroy all gems above, below, to the left, and to the right of it in a cross shape when activated. The chromo-genocidal Hypercube is still around, as is the Power Gem that destroys one adjacent gem in every direction (now called the Fire Gem). Also, in case I didn’t use the word enough in this paragraph: gem gem gem gem gem.
However, the biggest change is the ability to match gems anytime. This means no more waiting around for combos to end or for new gems to fall from the top of the screen to start matching again: you’re always looking for new matches and making them as quickly as possible. In the new Bejeweled Blitz, you are now always playing the game, making it further than ever before from PopCap’s casual hit Peggle. (Oh snap! Peggle burn!)
There are a couple other great new features (namely, the Last Hurrah and Blazing Speed, which I’ll leave for you to discover yourself), but it can’t be emphasized enough how much the new match-whenever rule alters the gameplay. Blitz used to be a relatively chill game most of the time: you’d make a match, look for new ones to make when the current one resolves, and try to keep your speed bonus up. Now, the game is a goddamn 60 second adrenaline rush: if you’re not making combos nonstop, you’re not doing it right, and it’s surprisingly exhilarating.
The surgical removal of all relaxation from the game was a brave, but wise, move. Bejeweled Blitz now lends itself to repeat plays much better than before. With no downtime between moves to hold you back, the 60 seconds you’re given are now fully yours, and the game feels like a much more skill-based battle against the clock as a result. The game is now a little less casual and a little more hardcore, which is a big part of what made that 30-minute binge okay. I wasn’t playing it to procrastinate, I was playing it because it’s an excellent video game. And yes, if you’re a math person, that means I played about 30 consecutive games without realizing it. This says to me that Bejeweled Blitz, somewhat unbelievably, is a better game than it was a week ago.
It’s kind of hard to make guesses about the longevity of these adjustments. Maybe after a while I’ll get bored with it again and fall out of the habit. Maybe PopCap will eventually have to introduce another slew of tweaks to keep people addicted. All I know is that I interrupted myself to play Bejeweled Blitz at least 15 times during this article, and that as far as I’m concerned, a faster game of Bejeweled is a much better one.
Readers! Have you played the new, improved Blitz yet? What do you think? Let us know in the comments!
Play Bejeweled Blitz here: http://apps.facebook.com/bejeweledblitz/