It’s widely accepted that PopCap makes addictive casual games, but Bejeweled 3 may be the first that’ll get you high. That is, if you’re susceptible to binaural beats—mood-altering audio tones that are said to cause hallucinations, aid in astral traveling, and facilitate lucid dreaming. Straight-edged gamers needn’t worry. The mood-altering audio tracks, along with subliminal messaging of positive affirmations, ambient background noise, and a breath-modulating metronome, are totally optional. They’re part of Bejeweled 3’s touchy-feely Zen mode—the just-for-fun, mellow flavor of the game designed to dial back the casino-floor intensity of a typical Bejeweled session.
Bejeweled 3 deals plenty of the hard stuff, too. A slew of timed games leverage Bejeweled’s elemental match-three mechanic to more complex ends. The best of the bunch is Diamond Mine, a clever take on Mr. Driller that lets players burrow into the earth and collect gold and treasure every time they make a match next to terra firma. Bejeweled 3’s best moments happen when the clock is running down and you’re desperately making matches, looking for the one combination that’ll add more time and extend your game. And more than a few of the game’s modes trade in that kind of tension.
Additional motivation is supplied by a RPG-style ranking system and a series of badges that track your gaming high points. The whole affair is wrapped in a handsome visual presentation. If the deities on Olympus played casual games, this is what their videogame downtime would look like—all salmon skies, ornate pillars, and shimmering gems as far as the eye can see.
The only real disappointment in Bejeweled 3 is that the game takes inspiration from Bejeweled Blitz—PopCap’s wildly distracting, socially charged Facebook game—but doesn’t include all its online bells and whistles. Now that the Facebook game has given us the ability to brag publicly about our high scores and connect with the most unlikely opponents (who knew your aunt was so good at games?) it’s hard to go back to a game that feels hermetically sealed on the PC.