Match 3 jewel games are no new genre, and the Bejeweled franchise has always been the king of the hill. The Facebook-originated version, Bejeweled Blitz, allows gem-addicts to get their fixes in one-minute increments, using special gems to clear rows and lines while trying to get to the top of the high score board. Scopely’s Jewels with Buddies sounds like a ripped-off mash-up of Zynga’s Words with Friends and Bejeweled…frankly, it is. But by combining the competitive nature of WwF with the puzzle frenzy of Bejeweled Blitz, Scopely has managed to create a hit.
Rounds in Jewels give you one minute to match as many gems as possible for points. The faster you make matches, the more each match is worth. Bonus multiplier gems also drop randomly; matching these will increase the amount each of your following matches is worth. But Jewels changes the formula by allowing you to use up to two power-ups for each match. These power-ups are purchased with coins gained during each match, and correspond to jewel colors on the board. They range from the panda, which clears an entire row on the board, to the dragon, which will eliminate the jewels surrounding every match you clear. Combining these powers in the right way can result in exciting, chaotic matches that really push your score up. Each power-up can be recharged and reused by matching the power’s corresponding gem, encouraging players to strategize and focus on recharging powers. This feels like a fresh take on the match 3 puzzler and gives an element of strategy not felt in Jewels’ rivals.
Where Jewels with Buddies succeeds is its tournament-style versus format. You can create a match against your friends on Facebook or play against random users, and then each player will get three one-minute rounds to rack up as many points as possible; the player with the most points overall wins. You won’t know what score your opponent got in a round until you complete that round yourself, so deciding to spend lots of coins on strong power-ups or saving them for later matches is up to you. This 1v1 format inspired me to come back to play rounds a lot more frequently than playing Bejeweled Blitz on my iPad.
As addictive as Jewels is, it sometimes feels like it hasn’t stepped far enough away from its predecessors’ footprints. The game provides stat tracking, with overall high scores and averages stored, but there’s no community to compare scores to for ranking. Also, matching for random battles is, well, random, and doesn’t seem to take skill or average score into account. This can lead to some pretty lopsided match-ups, and considering games don’t generally take days or weeks to finish like Words with Friends games might, it’s more noticeable when you’re pounding on your opponents (or regularly getting pounded on). It’d be great if there were an experience system of some kind pushed into an update, and I’d love to see organized tournaments where players can bet coins or compete for bonus prizes. Then again, maybe Scopely shouldn’t integrate those aspects…then I’d really never stop playing…
Overall, Jewels with Buddies is an exciting, satisfying take on the match 3 puzzler that is light enough to play in quick increments, but deep enough to keep gamers coming back. The sound effects and graphics are as rewarding as playing a slot machine in Vegas, and the gameplay is just as addictive. I hope that future updates work to round out the community, but after creating the hit app Dice with Buddies, they’ve got the experience to keep players matching for a very, very long time.