Having spent many happy hours with Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, we were keen to see what the XBLA version had to offer. For an investment of 800 Microsoft points (or around $16), there were bound to be some new and exciting features that would further enhance the addictive, frenzied action… right? As it turns out, Bejeweled Blitz Live offers both more and less than its free-to-play counterpart.
But firstly a quick rundown of the mechanics, for those not in the know: the Bejeweled titles are all variations on a match 3 theme, in which the idea is to line up three or more identical gems by swapping them with adjacent ones, to remove them from the board and earn points. New gems drop in from the top of the screen to fill any gaps, and matches of four or more gems produce ‘special’ gems that have different destructive effects. The point of difference for Bejeweled Blitz is the one minute time limit, which really puts the pressure on to make as many matches as possible, as quickly as possible. Consistently fast play is rewarded with a blistering speed bonus that can rack up some serious points. Boosts can be purchased with coins earned during play and used strategically to add extra time, or to increase your bonus multiplier, for example. For some reason the boosts are absent in the Live version… and they’re sorely missed.
Bejeweled Blitz Live has just two game modes: Classic (as described above), and Twist. As the name implies, the latter offers a twist on the standard style of play. Instead of swapping horizontally or vertically, ‘blocks’ of four gems are rotated clockwise or anticlockwise to line up matches. Once you get your head around the mechanics, Twist provides a novel and different challenge to Classic mode.
For those who have played Bejeweled on the PC, the transition from mouse to Xbox controller takes a little getting used to. Once you do, however, the controls are surprisingly efficient. The onscreen cursor is directed with the left analogue stick, and gems are moved with the coloured buttons (Y for an upwards swap, X for a swap to the left etc.). This system effectively gives you two options for every move, i.e. instead of moving a specific gem, moving the gem beside it in the opposite direction will produce the same results. You’ll be able to execute some very fast swaps in this manner, but compared to the PC version it is slower overall than using a mouse. In fact, we struggled to maintain sufficient momentum to earn that coveted speed bonus.
The main draw card for Bejeweled Blitz Live lies in the option to do battle with one or more other players – either locally or online, and display your high score on the leaderboard for all to see. It’s definitely geared towards the casual gamer, and the short bursts of intense, frenzied action are well suited to the Live arena. Up to 16 people can play at once in party Live multiplayer, with positions on the leaderboard shifting along with the scores.
There’s nothing truly noteworthy about the sights and sounds department. The overall look is sharp and edgy in HD, with colours that are bright, bold and bordering on garish, and the game plays along to a single, repetitive techno track. It’s not bad - just not as polished as some of the other Bejeweled titles. However, you probably won’t be playing for more than a few minutes at a time… and will be too busy speed-matching gems to admire the aesthetics.
An extra game mode or two would have made Bejeweled Blitz Live a more attractive prospect, but at the end of the day it’s a fairly cheap buy. So how does it stack up against the original? Let’s use a food-based analogy: imagine you had only a few minutes for lunch and had to grab a snack. The Facebook version of Bejeweled Blitz would be a Maccas Happy Meal, on the house; whereas Bejeweled Blitz Live would be one of those low carb protein bars in a shiny foil wrapper. Both provide sustenance on the run, but one is meatier and more satisfying than the other… and it’s free.