Crispy Gamer

Review: Bejeweled 3

If you've played games in the 8 years or so, be it on a phone, console or PC, you've probably run across Bejeweled in some form before. The series has derived huge success due to the beautifully simple and yet super-addicting mechanic of swapping adjacent gems to form sets of three or more. PopCap didn't risk the core mechanic of the game when it came time to build a sequel, so Bejeweled 2 simply added new modes that worked with the same gameplay in slightly different degrees.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Bejeweled 3 continues in this same vein. Upon first entering the game you are given access to four play modes: Classic, Lightning, Zen and Quest modes. Classic is the traditional mode where the game only ends when there are no possible matches. Zen mode is almost exactly the same as Classic; its only gimmick is adding in soothing effects such as "inspirational messages" that appear in the game and "ambient sounds" to relax you as you match gems. I'm not sure if anyone plays Bejeweled as a form of meditation, but if there are, Zen mode is there for them; otherwise it's more or less a filler mode.

My favorite of the main modes is Lightning mode, which puts the basic game play against a one minute timer. This mechanic has already proved madly successful in Popcap's Facebook entry, Bejeweled Blitz, and Lightning takes the idea even further with time gems. As you create matches special time gems appear that, if matched, fill a time bar to the left of the game board to a certain amount of seconds. Time accumulated by matching this way will re-fill the timer when it runs out while also increasing your multiplier. The result is a game that can last over three minutes and becomes more and more intense with each multiplier increase. The pressure forces you to be quick but also thoughtful in lining up gems, since the reward for larger matches is great.

Quest mode is a mashup of different Bejeweled modes tied to a progression over five different areas. In each area you restore an artifact by completing up to eight offered challenges; completing four will be enough to advance to the next area, while eight fully restores the artifact (full restoration offers nothing but satisfaction for completionists). Each challenge in an area offers a different variation of the game, adding a slight tweak to the normal game play.

For example, in Butterfly mode certain gems turn into colored butterflies that move to the top with each match. The player needs to match the butterflies before they reach the top and are eaten by a spider. In Poker mode each match's gem color becomes a card in your hand - your goal is to get certain poker hands like 3 of a kind or a full house. Ice storm has rising columns of ice behind the board that will slow or stop when a match is made next to them. If all columns reach the top the game ends. There's also Diamond Mine which emphasizes making matches towards the bottom, which breaks through the ground and will eventually uncover gold and treasure.

There are several other variations you'll encounter in Quest mode, but I highlighted those four since they become playable outside of Quests when certain requirements are met. For the most part these new modes add a slight twist on the game but aren't enough to have lasting appeal. Some modes, like Poker and Diamond Mine, feel much more luck oriented since a series of bad gem patterns can easily end your game. Quest mode is also disappointingly short - there are only 5 areas and 40 quests total, so a decent Bejeweled player will get through it all in an hour or two.

Finding lasting appeal of Bejeweled 3 requires that one of those eight main modes will hook you. If you become addicted to getting the best Lightning score there is, or just can't get enough of playing it, then Bejeweled 3 will be more than worth your money. There are a few other attempts, such as badges that you earn from hitting score milestones in the different modes, to add replay value to the game, but they feel disconnected from the rest of the game and do not serve as huge motivators. Adding to this is the fact that the main mode of Bejeweled is easily found in one of hundreds of free online clones, and Zen mode is just that with some soothing music in the background. I recommend trying Bejeweled 3's demo first and seeing if one of the other modes stand out to you - you'll know pretty quickly if it's recapturing the original Bejeweled "one more game" feeling again.

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Review: ilomilo

If there’s one thing you can say about the gaming industry these days, it’s that sometimes it feels like we’re playing more of the same year after year. The most anticipated titles are usually retreads, remakes, and sequels of games already played before, only with MORE, BIGGER, BETTER. It’s a problem that plagues the industry, though it doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon; hell, even mediocre games are rewarded with sequels these days.

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So while it may be too much to ask for originality in major releases sometimes, at least there are still Xbox Live Arcade and other downloadable services, comprising a distribution model that still offers quality games in mid-January while retail stores offer nothing but crap. It feels these days that the best way to find consistently original games is on these small distribution sites, and the first game released this year on Xbox Live Arcade was ilomilo, a seemingly simplistic yet challenging platform puzzler overloaded with cuteness.

Created by the Swedish development team at SouthEnd Interactive (previously known for the 2009 XBLA remake of Lode Runner), the premise of ilomilo is simple: presented as though it were designed for a children’s book, the player must unite best friends ilo and milo throughout each level, who meet every day for snacks and tea and dance when reunited. However, every time they try to meet up, their path is different. The player must then navigate the terrain in order to join up ilo and milo and thus complete the level.

Players can easily switch between ilo and milo using the X button, which is often crucial to solving a puzzle. Neither ilo or milo are able to jump, leap, or grab onto ledges, so players must utilize different objects in order for the two to connect. This includes using boxes that elongate, include trap doors, and even float. Players also encounter different obstacles on each level, including monsters that eat cubes and block your path.

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Difficulty usually sets in when players must walk along ramps that shift the player’s perspective on the platform. The game forces the player to utilize additional spatial thinking, which, paired with the numerous blocks the players must use to navigate obstacles, can complicate the levels further. In fact, when you’re usually set up against an increasingly frustrating puzzle, sometimes the best strategy comes from taking a step back and rethinking the way the puzzle was presented. Oftentimes I found the solution to a complex puzzle to be far simpler than I first thought. Whether it takes looking at the problem from a different angle or utilizing the correct block, the solution is usually easier than it seems.

Camera movement is limited throughout the courses, though players are given a little control. Players are able to zoom in on their character or zoom out to view the entire course, which proves essential when faced with particularly complex problems. Players are able to inch the camera around to try to get better angles, though for the most part camera movement is controlled. Players are also able to find either ilo or milo in the level with the push of a button, which opens up a small circular window clearing through nearby obstacles.

Each level is also outfitted with numerous collectibles and Easter eggs for players to find. You can find three Safkas, which look like little versions of ilo and milo, in each level. Collect enough Safkas throughout each stage and you can unlock bonus stages for each world. Players can also pick up items that unlock memories of a reminiscing couple, with each piece unlocking a part of their tale. Players can also collect other collectibles, including game artwork and music tracks.

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Though the game is challenging at times, the game’s entire run through is relatively short. There are about 4 world stages with 12 levels (including 3 bonus levels) total, though I would not be surprised if there was some DLC down the way. The levels do open themselves up for easy replay-ability if you wanted to try to complete each level entirely or just play through with a friend. The game is presently priced at 800 MSP, and while that may seem steep for some, I definitely felt like I got my money’s worth out of it. The game offers a steep learning curve, and some levels were just outright frustrating.

Despite the game’s short length and erratic difficulty at times, ilomilo is just downright charming. From the game’s storybook visuals to its infectious music (seriously, just try not to love the music), ilomilo offers something different and unique from most XBLA titles. The developers at SouthEnd Interactive created a strategy game that offers a child-like presentation that will increasingly challenge the sharpest of minds.

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