Friday, September 02, 2011

The fabulous Friday Facebook fun feature ... flip-flop!

There is a reason why Bejeweled has sold a bazillion copies on every possible format you can think of. A big part is this actual availability on every possible format you can think of, because that certainly helps. But another part is due to how inherently playable the game itself is. Start out with a square full of differently coloured jewels, switch the position of two of them, and if this movement leads to you putting three or more jewels of the same colour in a row then by universal "Match Three" decree the matched jewels dissapear, making way for some new replacements. Repeat this until the game determines that you can't actually make any more moves, unless you are in the Infinite mode where every drop is guaranteed that you have at least one potential move on the board.

It is a nice relaxing puzzle game, and is one that anybody could learn. The element of luck is nicely underplayed, as even though you don't know what is coming next, you do have the option to plan a couple of moves in advance. Add in to this mix the powerups, which come from getting 4 or 5 jewels together, and a decent element of strategy presents itself.

It sounds like a poor candidate for a Facebook game, if you think about it. What Facebook wants is social interaction, not some poor sod sat there for hours on end. So, Popcap came up with a couple of rather good ideas.

First, they stuck a strict time limit onto the game. So, instead of potentially playing for the rest of your life, you play for exactly one minute. Then, they put a score element in this. And the final moment of sheer genius was to tie it all into a leaderboard made entirely of your Facebook friends. This is important. Were it a leaderboard of all the people in the world, everybody would quickly feel completely inadequate as some Korean kids took up all the top slots with scores so high that they should be written in Hexadecimal. But, when the person at the top of the scoreboard is your own Mum you KNOW you can beat that. And this is what gives the game such an addictive quality.

Soon, your humble scores start popping up with rewards. "You earned a 25k medal" is a big deal the first time you see it. But as you play more, you start to notice scoring opportunities as they arise more quickly. It doesn't take long before the medals are for scores in the hundreds of thousands, and the names of your friends (and those people you don't actually know but just accepted anyway for fear of upsetting them in the off-chance you ever actually meet them in person again) are queueing up below you in the high score table. Eventually, it will become a weekly battle between you and a couple of others, as you desperately hope for the run that nets you top spot. Scores are wiped every 7 days, so there are plenty of opportunities to say "HAHAHAHAHAHA!" to your work colleagues, and wipe their noses in their inadequacy. You can even record your particularly spectacular games, and post the video all over your friends feeds. And, no, nobody would blame your friends for deleting you if you did this, so use this humiliation tool at your own risk.

The polar opposite, then, of the sedate proceedings one is used to in Bejeweled, Blitz brings explosions and adrenaline into the mix. You start to live your life one minute at a time, and as "One more go, THAT ONE DIDN'T COUNT!" becomes a mantra, you suddenly realise that it is 4am and you have to be up for work in 2 hours time.

Bejeweled Blitz is one of those most rare of titles. It is the perfect mix of simplicity and rewarding pyrotechnics. When an explosion causes a chain reaction it is beautiful. When this is the result of your own planning, it is quite exquisite. Little in life is as rewarding as watching a game play itself at a speed that your eyes are struggling to follow, and your fingers can't hope to match. Best of all, it doesn't even need to be played on Facebook, as the iOS version connects to your account. Whilst this is quite unfair to those who don't own an iPhone or iPod Touch, it is their own stupid fault so let us not dwell on this too much.

Possibly, mere words can't really describe the game. Therefore, I shall link to a video that shows you just how good it is possible to get at Blitz. The score in this run is something that at first seems impossible and beyond your wildest dreams. However, give it a little time and you will easily be hitting similar heights yourself. (I have broken the 500,000 mark several times now, and people frequently break the million barrier.)

Anyone can play Bejeweled Blitz, and everyone should. It redefines the classic puzzle game, turning it into a battle for superiority with your friends . More than this, it becomes a battle to ever go to bed at a reasonable time again, because Popcap could have no argument if the game were to one day be classified as a Class A drug. It is certainly one of the best eaters of time that your reporter has ever come across, and has the highest of recommendations attached.

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