Bejeweled and its sequel have been on every system under the sun, and immensely popular to boot. It was only a matter of time before a third one came along, while the core gameplay was in desperate need of an overhaul. Bejeweled Twist makes one huge change to go with the usual sequel upgrades, and it completely transforms the series in all the right ways.
The basic idea is the same as usual: clear away gems by matching three at a time on an 8x8 grid. When they disappear the hole is filled by an endless supply of gems falling in from above, and there are some good bonuses to be earned by setting up four (or more) in a row, or clearing off multiple groups of gems in a single move. The difference between Bejeweled Twist and the hundreds of Bejeweled clones is in how you move the gems.
Bejeweled Twist is a fantastic reinvention of the series, fixing almost every problem it had with just one change to the central gameplay mechanic.
The cursor controls a circle that encloses four gems at a time. Click on the group and it rotates a quarter-turn clockwise, hopefully creating a match and earning a nice pile of points. It's no longer required to create a match to move, and this opens up a whole world of strategy and potential. In addition to losing the always-painful surprise of an unexpected Game Over from the previous games, it's now possible to set up combos or create power gems, so long as you're willing to suck up the no-match penalty.
Every time a match is made, one pip on the multiplier bar gets filled in. Once the bar is filled the multiplier goes up by one, to a maximum of x10. Taking a non-matching move empties the bar, and taking another immediately after drops the multiplier by one. There's always at least one move available on the play field, but sometimes it's more than worth taking the penalty when the opportunity for major scoring presents itself.
While combos are still far more luck than skill, as gems drop in from the top and just happen to match up with their surroundings, building a power gem is a matter of recognizing the opportunity. There are three different power gems, created by matching four, five, or six in a row, and when activated they can clear out huge chunks of the screen. Four in a row creates a fire gem, which when used (either by matching or being destroyed) explodes to take out every gem it touches in a 3x3 area. Lightning gems are created by a five-in-a-row, and destroy everything on their horizontal and vertical lines. The ultra-rare lightning bomb is created by six (or more) in a row, and it takes out a complete 3x3 cross shape. While fire gems are pretty common and even lightning gems can happen by chance, it takes a lot of planning to earn a lightning bomb. When used properly, however, all the power gems are satisfyingly powerful.
With all that power and freedom of movement, it would seem harder to hit the Game Over screen. That's true to an extent. A round of the main mode of Bejeweled Twist can take a while, but eventually a bomb gem is going to explode. Bomb gems are jewels that have a number on them, and each turn causes it to count down by one. When it hits zero, a roulette wheel pops up and a skull is added to it, and if the wheel stops on a skull the bomb explodes, ending the game. Bombs are just normal gems with numbers, though, and they can be cleared in the usual way. Surviving on the higher levels, where the countdown is shorter and the bombs are more numerous, gets very tricky, especially when locked gems come into play. Locked gems can be matched or exploded but never moved, and having a couple of them active can disable a large chunk of the board. It's nothing a bit of planning and some sacrifice of the multiplier bar can't handle, but each turn dealing with a locked gem is one that the bomb counts down.
Once Game Over hits it's time for an important choice: replay or try a different mode? The main game, Classic, is addictive enough, but there are an additional three modes to choose from. Zen is a stress-free endless game that's good to chill out to, but feels a bit pointless without a single threat to work against. The appropriately named Challenge mode is a group of 13 challenges, with eight levels apiece. Blow up a certain number of gems in one move, make a large combo, create or blow up a number of power gems, etc. These levels are score-free so you can set up the board as necessary, which makes for a good change of pace from worrying about the multiplier bar with every move. Finally there's Bejeweled Twist's most addictive mode, Blitz. Blitz is a five minute time attack, and the object is simply to get as high a score as possible. It's far too easy to play round after round of Blitz deep into the night, trying endlessly to add a few more points to the high score.
Bejeweled Twist is a fantastic reinvention of the series, fixing almost every problem it had with just one change to the central gameplay mechanic. Clearing several groups of gems in a single move still feels like a gift from the game than an act of skill, but removing the need to make a match more than makes up for it. Bejeweled Twist is an excellent puzzler that will sink its hooks deep into your brain, and proves absolutely worth many sleepless nights.