Good news: not only is Popcap Games announcing a new Bejeweled, but the game is also out right now on both iOS and Android. Called Bejeweled Stars, the new game is an iterative take on the iconic match-three puzzle game, adding just enough new stuff to make the age-old formula fresh. And don’t worry: even though this latest entry is free-to-play, you won’t find yourself frustrated if you don’t spend any cash.
Even if you haven’t played Bejeweled before, it’ll be familiar to anyone with at least a passing knowledge of mobile games like Candy Crush Saga. It’s a puzzle game in which you’re presented with a board full of colorful jewels, and your goal is to constantly match up three or more of the same color in order to rack up a high score. In Stars, you’ll be playing through a series of levels each with a predefined goal. Sometimes you’ll need to clear away specific blocks in order to complete the level, other times you might need to keep butterfly jewels from escaping the board (it’s a weird game). Each time you have a limited number of moves to complete the goal.
It’s a simple premise, but there’s just something about Popcap’s games — which also include Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies — that make them feel right. The different levels are cleverly designed, offering enough challenge to feel satisfying, while the power-ups are a lot of fun to use. It’s hard to explain the simple joy of setting off a massive, explosive chain reaction that clears the entire board. Stars also introduces some new power-ups, including one that scrambles the board, which you can craft by collecting special jewels throughout the game. There are also some great new obstacles that make the boards feel very dynamic; my personal favorite are the new currents, which flow like a river through the level, constantly moving jewels around.
Of course, great gameplay can easily be ruined by an obnoxious free-to-play implementation, but, at least from what I’ve played over the past two days, Stars thankfully avoids this. The most annoying aspect is the energy system. Like in many similar games, you can play as much as you want, but failing a stage will cost you one of five available hearts; when all five run out you can either pay for more or wait for hearts to regenerate. It can be annoying, but not especially so, since the levels aren’t that difficult to begin with. (I've yet to run out of all of my hearts.) Other than that, you can spend real money to do things like buy more power-ups or avatars for your profile, but all of it feels pretty optional. At no point have I felt the need to spend money on Bejeweled Stars yet.
Stars isn’t the first mobile version of Bejeweled, but it might just be the one that captures the addictive feeling of the original PC games the best. The stages are all short, but tightly-designed, making them ideal for a quick bout on your phone. And its ridiculous sense of style separates it from pretty much any other puzzle game. It’s hard not to love a game that has a majestic space cat singing an epic verse of meows every time you finish a level. You can grab the game now on both iOS and Android.