Popcap Games is a modern internet success story. At a time when it was deemed impossible to make money from selling downloadable content on the web, John Vechey, Brien Fiete and Jason Kapalka managed to build a gaming juggernaut on the back of simple, but addictive games like Zuma and Peggle that have gone on to become the bane of office managers everywhere. Bejeweled was the smash hit that started it all, so it seems only logical that the sequel, imaginatively titled Bejeweled 2, should be released for the games console with the largest installed base and one which probably already plays Bejeweled in some form on another platform. We recently had the opportunity to play a pre-release version of the game and have managed to pry ourselves away from it to share these thoughts.
Bejeweled 2's Classic Mode is the same as the original game, and there's three additional game modes to go along with it. The Wii version is pretty much the same as what you get on Mac and PC, but for some slight graphical tweaks, alternate control methods and Mii support. Unlike most games you don't appear to have a limited number of profiles, but instead simply choose either a Mii on your system or one of several stock ones against which to record high scores. Though Bejeweled 2 is a single-player affair this flexibility means that all your friends, neighbours and random strangers can become addicted too.
For those who've yet to get hooked, Bejeweled is an interesting "match 3" game variant. The playfield consists of a large square filled with coloured jewels which players try to clear in lines of three or more of the same colour via the simple mechanism of making two jewels change places. You can only swap jewels if it results in a clearable line, so there's a limited number of plays at any given time. Clearing rows of jewels will cause the ones above to drop down with the resulting gaps being filled by still more jewels coming down from the top of the playing field. If a line of four jewels is cleared they combine into a sparking jewel that will explode if combined in a line with others of the same colour; clearing five creates a "cosmic" doohickey that will remove all jewels of the same colour as whatever it's swapped with.
In the classic game mode a gauge to the right of the playfield slowly fills as you clear lines of jewels; once full the level ends and the next one begins. The Endless mode dispenses with levels and is played on one board until you can no longer make any matches – something that will also end your play in the other modes. Though Classic Mode is also pretty much endless as far as most people are concerned (but it can in fact end), the fact that the board doesn't get reset due to level increases means more planning is required in order to last in Endless Mode. Action is a time attack game which replaces Classic's level gauge with a time gauge that runs down constantly, refilling slightly every time you clear a group of jewels, adding an element of panic to what is normally a game one plays on autopilot. The fourth game mode is Puzzle and tasks players with clearing all gems from a series of boards grouped according to "planet." The mechanics are the same as the regular game, but the board isn't completely filled-in and the goals are slightly different: you'll need to ensure you clear lines in the proper order so as to trigger chains that remove all the jewels present. If you clear four out of the five boards in each planet you'll unlock the next, but you'll want to clear all five, surely?
Good controls are key to keeping addicted players playing and you've got quite a lot of options here. Your Remote can be held pointing towards the TV to use the pointer as a straight substitute for the mouse controls of the PC, simply clicking the two jewels you want to swap places or alternatively point and use the d-pad to choose which jewel to swap. You can also hold the Remote sideways, using the D-Pad to move your cursor, the 2 button to "grab" jewels and then the D-Pad again to pick an adjacent jewel to swap it with. In case you're having trouble finding a match you can press B or 1 to get a hint (big arrow pointing at a jewel to say "PICK ME!"), though if you dither long enough this will be done for you. If you like you can also play using the Nunchuk, with the analogue stick or pointer moving the cursor and the other controls applying as usual. Lastly, the Classic Controller can be used, though this locks out pointer functionality; giving you a choice of using the stick to move the cursor and the D-Pad or buttons to make your choices or display hints. We preferred the simplicity of the pointer controls, but it's always nice to have options.
As you while away the hours clearing out jewels you can listen to some innocuous background music whilst your ever-present Mii looks around and mugs in the corner as if to mock you sitting in your bathrobe whilst the world goes by, though it's possible that eventually you'll need to get up and do something else, like eat. In that case you can suspend play through a menu option, and the next time you launch that game mode you'll be asked if you want to resume your game; better still this will apply to all modes, so you can have four different marathons going at once and toggle between them. An excellent feature for those occasions when you want to pretend to relatives attempting an intervention that you've finally kicked the habit.
If that wasn't enough when we checked the Scores menu option we saw local and worldwide leaderboards for Classic and Action, though sadly there's no evidence of the spamming feature all Facebook users have come to know and love, so you'll need to resort to sending messages of your latest high score via other means.
It could be the colourful jewels that serve as game pieces, the satisfying click they make when more jewels fall into place, or the simplicity of the gameplay, but whatever it is, Bejeweled is as moreish a puzzle game as we've seen. You don't need to play very long to see why this is the biggest puzzle game on the planet. We have little doubt this will be one of the most popular games on WiiWare when it hits the Wii Shop, regardless of what the critics think. No doubt Peggle is coming along right behind it – lock your doors!