Bejeweled has long been known as one of the kings of casual games, what with its simple yet addictive gem-matching gameplay that anyone can easily understand. But what happens when Bejeweled morphs into something decidedly less casual? The answer is Bejeweled Blitz Live.
Imagine Bejeweled crossed with Geometry Wars and you've got a good starting point for Bejeweled Blitz Live. At its heart, it's the same game that everyone knows and loves. There's a grid of gems, and your job naturally is to link together chains of three or more identical gems in order to drop in even more pieces to perpetuate the vicious flurry of frenzied reorganization. The only real difference to the core gameplay is the Xbox control scheme. You move a cursor around to highlight a single gem, and then depending on which of the four face buttons you press, the gem immediately next to that one will get swapped in. So, for example, hitting A will swap in the piece immediately below it, while hitting X will swap in the piece immediately to the left of it. Simple, right?
Well, the new competitive elements are where Bejeweled Blitz Live begins to deviate from earlier games in the series. There are a number of modes to choose from, but the highlight of the bunch is the Party mode that pits 16 players against one another in a real-time scoring battle. In this mode you're shown the standard tile board of gems, but off to the side is a ladder that shows your Xbox avatar floating upward as you earn more points. Your goal is to rack up as many points as you can to get to the top of the ladder. The action is broken up into 60-second games to help give you a little rest in between all the mayhem, but there's nothing to stop you from immediately jumping back into the fray when a game is over and chasing down your competitors. We'll avoid going into some of the advanced strategies of securing and maintaining the lead, but suffice it to say that getting so many people together in one big contest definitely makes the game more tense and frenetic.
There are different gameplay variants depending on your mode of choice. In addition to classic Bejeweled, there's Bejeweled Twist, which is a much more high-scoring version of the standard game. Instead of swapping the positions of two pieces, you highlight a group of four and cycle them around either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Being able to move around so many pieces at once opens up a lot of new scoring opportunities, making it possible to rack up much bigger tallies than in the normal game.
Scoring big is definitely a common theme in Bejeweled Blitz Live, because it's a game very much designed around leaderboards and the chase that goes with making sure your friends don't top your scores. You'll find both lifetime and weekly leaderboards to sift through, and anytime a friend passes you up you'll get a not-so-subtle alert the next time you log into the game to let you know you've been bested. Combine this with slick, colorful, dance-music-filled menus and you've got a game that feels more than a little bit like Geometry Wars--though admittedly with the core Bejeweled gameplay largely unchanged. You can expect to see the game out sometime soon. Popcap has finished the game and sent it off to Microsoft, so expect it to arrive on XBLA in the not-too-distant future.