As with any entertainment medium, gaming goes through trends. The latest of these is the casual turn based online social genre of games, or really any game that ends in “with Friends”. Stofle Designs are best known as the guys who make the With Buddies line of iOS games. They have had success with their take on Yahtzee with Dice with Buddies and have now set their sights on Popcap’s Bejeweled with Jewels with Buddies.
The easiest way to describe the game is “best of 3 rounds of Bejeweled Blitz wins”. You can select your opponent either from a list of friends by connecting the app to Facebook, or simply taking on a random opponent. You must then play a minute long game of that classic 'match three like-colored gems' gameplay. When you're done you must wait until your opponent has their turn and at the end of three rounds your scores are added together and highest score wins.
Dude... the colors dude.
While I compare it to Bejeweled Blitz for convenience's sake, in reality it's a more neutered version. Getting four or five of a kind doesn't grant you special gem types that you must strategically use to activate. You won’t be getting a hypercube or exploding gem here. Your reward for matching more than three gems is a points bonus. Yippie.
Do not, however, think that this game is a completely bland affair. For the true fun comes from the animal power-ups. Currently the game has five animal power-ups you can use. There's the panda which will destroy one horizontal row; the elephant will destroy half of the jewels on the board vertically; the monkey will remove all jewels of any single color; the penguin will momentarily slow down the game clock, giving you more time to make combos; and the dragon will momentarily make every match you make activate a small explosion. You can take a maximum of two (different) animals into the game with you, making all kinds of interesting combinations possible.
Some men just want to watch the world burn and elephants fall.
Each round the one or two animal(s) start the game fully charged and able to activate their power. Once used they become inactive until you refill their power meter, which for each animal is connected to a specific colored gem. For example, to be able to activate the elephant’s power you must match enough purple gems to refill the power meter. Since gems destroyed with power-ups also count towards refilling the meter there is some strategy in what you are targeting. This system works well to make up for the lack of special gems and does add a lot to the overall fun of play.
Well, I suppose it's about time I dropped the other shoe. Even though this game is likely to be free to download (app store pricing is never set in stone) you could find yourself having to pay to play. See, using these animal powers cost in-game coins. The panda, which honestly is quite worthless, costs 10 coins, while the much more useful monkey costs 30 to use. Note also that this is not just for each game, it is a price you pay at the beginning of each round. So you could easily spend 100 in-game coins just getting through a single game.
Fine, you’ll say. I don’t need no stinkin’ animals. I… am a MAN! I’ll match those gems with one arm tied behind my back; no need to pay to get ahead. Alas, you don’t get a choice. You can’t play the game without selecting an animal. Luckily, there is a cheap random option by way of the slot machine, so for 15 coins you can get your two animal spots filled at random. Sometimes this equals getting just the panda, but other times it equals a powerful combination.
So while you do earn coins through playing the game well and getting matches with gems that have coins “hidden inside”, if you aren’t frugal you could get into a situation where you simply don’t have enough coins to start another round. How lucky for you that Stofle Designs can convert your physical money into virtual money then? Huh, a buck will get me 49 coins. But hey! If I spend $100 I can get 6099 coins. What value!
All joking aside, you can play quite a while by simply taking a spin on the slot machine each round and just doing your best with whatever pops up. Skillful playing should gain you back the coins that you spent per round, especially in those situations where you get a powerful combo of animals that sends your score skyrocketing. It only bothers me because you don’t have the option to play free of charge by choosing to not select any power-ups. I know a developer’s gotta eat, but it feels like a bad choice to make such a scenario - where someone has to either spend more money or just stop playing - a possible outcome.
Further proving that adding monkeys always improves a game.
For what it is, there is fun to be had. The game has a clean cartoony aesthetic. The music and sounds are decidedly standard but not annoying. It controls well, reacting to the swipes and taps on the screen perfectly. Frankly, it pretty much does what it advertises on the tin.
This also means it has some of the same issues that one can have with Bejeweled. Namely, it does generally boil down to luck. You can be an amazing player, but if the game doesn’t give you a series of jewels that just so happen to give you a long combo chain, you could end up with a low score. On the flipside, you could just get lucky and get a huge combo score thanks to the randomly falling jewels being exactly what you need. It mostly matters on what side of the luck verses skill fun scale you fall on. I personally prefer my games to be skill with a dash of luck and these games have always felt a bit more like luck with a dash of skill.
It is a fine game, especially for the cost. If you enjoy playing 'match three' type games, as well as take-turns multiplayer, then you’ll likely be charmed by this game. For me, the reduction in strategy, the forced pay-to-play set up, and general lack of a reward beyond “bragging” about a victory on Facebook or Twitter really keeps it from being something I want to get too invested in. It might not be my cup of tea, but that’s just because I prefer coffee more.