Bejeweled 2

Josh Lee

A common mistake when considering a simple, abstract game like this is to think that the quality of its graphics and sound are somehow less important than in blockbuster titles.

Publisher: PopCap Games
Genres: Puzzle
Price: $19.95
Multimedia: Bejeweled 2
Platforms: PC (also online)
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Everyone
Developer: PopCap Games
US release date: 2007-07

I'm having a little trouble writing this review. I need to go back and look at Bejeweled 2 to double-check a couple of details: terminology, credits, that sort of thing. The problem is, I'm afraid to open it up. Every time I do, hours disappear from my day, all my errands and chores are forgotten, and that's no good, because I'm on a deadline here. When you're afraid to play a game because it's too enjoyable, it's doing something very right.

Like most puzzle games, the mechanics of Bejeweled 2 are so simple that they're hardly worth describing. You're faced with a grid full of colored gems. Selecting two adjacent gems causes them to switch places. If you line up three or more gems of the same color in a row, they disappear, and the stones above them fall into their place. The resulting gap at the top of the board is filled in with new gems. That's it, really: just keep switching gems around to line them up, watch them go poof, lather, rinse, repeat.

A few years ago, the original Bejeweled introduced audiences to this particular variation on the action-puzzle formula. Like Tetris in the late 1980s, Bejeweled was a game that appealed to people who don't play games. Games like these are best served by making play as effortless as possible: if you have some sort of computer and can manage pointing and clicking, you can play Bejeweled. It's one of the best illustrations of what is (or should be) one of the cardinal rules of gaming: it shouldn't be hard to start playing; it should be hard to stop.

When you line up three gems, they disappear; it's a pleasing sight. When the gems above them fall into place, it will often set up another row of three, which will also disappear, pleasing you even more. Playing Bejeweled boils down to a continual search for these pleasing chain reactions in a dense and confusing field. As the game progresses and the field becomes more and more scrambled, it becomes harder to find these happiness-inducing combinations. What makes the game addictive is the tension between the feeling of pleasure that comes from seeing rows of gems disappear, the desire to keep seeing these disappearances, and the frustration that comes from knowing that you can never really achieve the perfect combination. This constant tension is what draws you in and doesn't let you go.

Bejeweled 2 makes only a few tweaks to its predecessor's formula, but they're all designed to pull you even further into its abstract little world. The most substantive changes are the addition of two special types of gems: Power Gems and Hyper Cubes. A Power Gem is created by lining up four gems of the same color instead of the usual three; when used in a subsequent combination, it explodes, blowing up all the gems around it. A Hyper Cube is created from a row of five gems, and acts as a wild card: when switched with a gem of any color, it will eliminate all gems of that color from the board. In addition to the opportunities for bigger chain reactions, the explosive, disruptive effect of these gems makes the game even more pleasurably chaotic.

In addition to the new gems, there are some new modes of play as well. As in the first Bejeweled, there are Classic and Action modes. In Classic mode, you simply clear lines until there are no more valid moves to be made. Since the distribution of gems is completely random, however, a game in this mode can go on for what seems like forever, or be abruptly cut off after a just couple of minutes. In Action mode, the distribution of colors is managed to guarantee that there will always be a valid move to be made somewhere on the board. In this mode, tension is provided by a timer running across the bottom of the screen like a fuse. As you make lines and chains, time is added on; as you hesitate, the timer ticks down.

The downloadable Deluxe version of Bejeweled 2 includes two more modes: Endless and Puzzle. Endless mode, like Action, guarantees that there will always be a valid move available, but like Classic, forgoes the timer in favor of a more relaxed pace. In the absence of any real challenge, however, this mode tends to get boring pretty quickly, unless you're really in the mood to just switch your brain off. More successful is the new Puzzle mode, a series of "handcrafted" layouts in which the goal is to clear all the gems from the board. While the online version of the game contains seven simple puzzles that act more as a tutorial for the game, the Deluxe version contains 80 puzzles, ranging from the mindlessly easy to the maddeningly difficult.

A common mistake when considering a simple, abstract game like this is to think that the quality of its graphics and sound are somehow less important than in a blockbuster title like, say, Half-Life 2. Bejeweled 2, however, is full of audio-visual elements that bring delight in little ways. The brightly colored gems shimmer as they wait for you to click on them, and shatter with a satisfying crashing noise when they're eliminated. The chime that accompanies the removal of a row heightens in pitch and volume during a chain reaction; a particularly long combo can change the feeling of the sound from simple acknowledgment to ecstatic celebration. A synthesized voice shouts "Excellent!" or "Incredible!" at high-scoring plays. When a level is cleared, the entire screen explodes as you're "warped" to the next board. All of these features serve not as mere window dressing, but as positive reinforcement, subtle rewards for playing and doing well.

Like pop songs and sitcoms, a game of Bejeweled 2 is short and kind of pointless. But with all the best forms of ephemeral entertainment, the goal isn't fulfillment or enlightenment; the goal is simply to keep you coming back for more. Bejeweled 2's genius isn't in its depth or sophistication, but in the way it creates such an intense desire in you for something as trivial as watching pictures of gems disappear from a screen, and sustains that desire to make you feel that if you could play just a little longer, you could achieve some sort of final, comprehensive mastery over the game. You never can, of course, but once you start playing, you'll probably forget that and try anyway. And try again.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.