Bejeweled Stars Review

The Peggle-fication of PopCap

Bejeweled Stars
PopCap Games

While match-3 gamers have focused primarily on King's ever-popular Candy Crush Saga in recent years, there's one franchise that dominated the landscape long before the days of sticky sweet mobile matching: Bejeweled. Originally released by PopCap Games in 2001, Bejeweled is debatably the first match-3 game ever. And even if you could somehow argue that it wasn't, there's no question that Bejeweled was the game that put the genre on the map. It was even the first series to take a real stab at free-to-play match-3, unleashing Bejeweled Blitz in the early days of Facebook.

But that was a long time ago, and matching games have changed significantly since Bejeweled last came out to play.

As a result, the Bejeweled franchise has made some changes to keep with the times. Gone are the endless sessions and races against the clock, now replaced by intricate stages and hearts that are broken every time you lose. People have been quick to call this the "Kingification" of Bejeweled. But while the game builds its core around a very similar loop to King's Candy Crush Saga, there's another game that has influenced Bejeweled Stars -- and it's this very influence that makes Bejeweled Stars such a blast to play.

Bejeweled Stars is a lot like Peggle

Close your eyes for a moment, and take an imaginary field trip with me to the PopCap office that exists only in my mind. In that office, someone says "What makes Peggle great? Take the pachinko-style gameplay out of it for a moment, and what are we left with?"

The question is met with contemplative silence. After a few moments, someone raises their hand. "It's the three P's, isn't it? Peggle is all about personality, powers, and pizazz. It has charming characters, skills that are as progressive as the difficulty, and we loudly pat the player on the back for a job well done."

"Exactly!," shouts his workmate. "That's what we need to for Bejeweled Stars. Let's embrace the three P's of Peggle."

And even though that office meeting happened entirely in my head, embracing the three P's is exactly what PopCap did.

Here's what that means

Bejeweled Stars isn't just a game about matching gems. That's the core of the experience of course, but it's just as much about its lively cast of characters and how you match those gems as it is about standard match-3 gameplay. In place of Peggle Masters like Bjorn the unicorn and Master Hu the owl are characters like Felis the cat who needs your help returning the stars to the night sky, or the surprise chicken who happily lays you an egg of loot when you feed him. Each character is beautifully designed and brimming with personality. If you told me Felis was a Peggle Master I'd somehow forgotten about, I wouldn't doubt you for a moment.

Where Bejeweled Stars really shines, though, is in its ever-evolving gameplay. Early on you'll be introduced to an assortment of powerful gems that can be created by matching more than 3 in certain configurations. This is fairly run-of-the-mill stuff in the mobile match-3 world, but where Bejeweled Stars breaks from tradition is by designing levels that can only be accomplished through cleverly creating these special gems in just the right places. As the game progresses you'll encounter all sorts of challenges -- from butterflies whose ascension will end your game to conveyor belts that move gems around the board on every turn -- that can seemingly only be conquered through timely special gem creation and placement.

In any other game, this would be a frustrating hang-up - but Bejeweled Stars is very liberal with its special gem creation opportunities. This leads to frequent explosions on the board, creating the same sort of massive combos that fans of the series have always known and loved. 

What's the catch?

That's not to say Bejeweled Stars is an easy game, nor does it completely escape some of the free-to-play trappings that make many mobile gamers cringe. Like Candy Crush, Bejeweled Stars seems deliberately designed to feature key levels that will require repeated attempts (and a little bit of luck) to complete. Like the majority of mobile games out there, Bejeweled Stars gives players the opportunity to break out their wallets to make a little more progress, whether that's replenishing hearts once you've run out or buying chests that have ingredients and other goodies in them.

And those ingredients? They're actually special gems that you collect during play and can later spend to make one-time use power-ups, adding a whole other level to those "how do I complete this difficult level?" moments that you're bound to encounter.

You can (and probably will) enjoy Bejeweled Stars without feeling the need to spend a dime. If you like consumable items in virtual games, though? There's no shortage of options here.

Bejeweled Lives

Making a match-3 game in 2016 is a seemingly crazy endeavor no matter who you are -- and if you're using an IP that was once as big as Bejeweled, there's an added expectation that's seemingly impossible to live up to. Much to our surprise though, Bejeweled Stars manages to straddle that fine line between what fans love about the series and what people are expecting in a modern mobile game. What's more, the team at PopCap have wisely drawn on what makes another of their franchises work so well, and Bejeweled Stars is all the better for it. Here's to hoping they continue this sort of thinking for whatever mobile project PopCap takes on next.