Dec. 13, 2010 at 8:02 PM ET
You can go ahead and kiss your precious free time and your productivity at work goodbye. A new "Bejeweled" game has launched and it's going to eat your brain.
And no, I'm not getting my "Bejeweled" crossed with my "Plants vs. Zombies" even though, yes, both games were created by casual gaming powerhouse PopCap Games and, yes, both games are brain-consumingly addictive.
"Bejeweled 3" has launched and it will suck you in just as its ground-breaking predecessors have sucked you in ... if not more so. That's because "Bejeweled 3" — the first true "Bejeweled" sequel in six years — is more "Bejeweled" and better "Bejeweled." In fact, it's the best "Bejeweled" there's ever been.
Let's back up for a moment. You have played "Bejeweled" right? I mean ... pretty much everyone who owns a computer has played "Bejeweled" or, at the very least, has played one of the many many "Bejeweled" knockoffs out there.
It's been ten years since the first "Bejeweled" launched as a browser game. Created by three guys working out of an apartment in Seattle, "Bejeweled" won the hearts of bored office workers everywhere and skyrocketed to popularity, launching those three guys — aka PopCap Games — into the gaming big leagues.
Nowadays, the company boasts 350 employees in offices around the globe and has delivered hits like "Plants vs. Zombies" and "Peggle" on top of "Bejeweled" spinoffs like "Bejeweled Blitz" and "Bejeweled Twist."
The basics of "Bejeweled" are seemingly simple — faced with a game board filled with rows and columns of different kinds of sparkling gems, it's your job to swap adjacent gems to match at least three gems of the same kind. Match them and they disappear. Then repeat.
That simple puzzle mechanic is delightful in itself, but the challenge of chaining together as many matches as you can in a single move ... the challenge of trying to get as many matches as you can as quickly as you can ... it all proves to be utterly mesmerizing.
Since the franchise launched a decade ago, more than 50 million units have been sold across 17 platforms. PopCap estimates they sell a "Bejeweled" game every 4.3 seconds and that some 7.5 billion hours have been spent playing the game.
But beyond the franchise's own success, "Bejeweled" and "Bejeweled 2" not only helped propel the popularity of casual games as a whole but also spawned an entirely new genre of games. These gem-matching games are now known as match-three games. Which is to say that, over the years, there have been a whole lot of games that have tried to do what "Bejeweled" does. Most of them have been shoddy knock offs, but some of them have been pretty impressive innovations on the idea.
Of course, that means "Bejeweled 3" arrives at a time when match-three games are, well, rather tired. Talk about been-there-done-that. But no one does it like PopCap.
The masters of match-three have delivered a new "Bejeweled" that refreshes and improves upon the genre they popularized. Not only have the graphics and soundtrack in this sequel been given a gorgeous upgrade, "Bejeweled 3" comes with a host of new modes that each put a clever new spin on match-three gameplay. (You can try it for free or download the full game for $20 here.)
Diamond Mine mode has you trying to make matches at the bottom of the screen to tunnel downward and unearth gold, artifacts and other rewards. Quest mode gives players tasks to complete. For example, you'll be asked to make matches that spread gold to each column and row before a clock runs out, or to match equal numbers of blue gems and red gems without letting a scale that keeps tally of each color dip too far to one side.
I admit, I was skeptical of the Poker mode — a mode in which you try to create matches to make the best poker hand you can (match three sets of emeralds, for example, and you've got three-of-a-kind). But then I played it non-stop for half an hour and realized it was my favorite mode of them all. Meanwhile, the new Butterfly mode is almost equally mesmerizing — a mode that features butterfly gems that flutter upward and closer to a spider at the top of the screen with each match you make. Match them to set them free.
Certainly strangest of all is the Zen mode — a mode that lets you enjoy the game unpressured by goals or time limits. But it also sends out sound waves that are supposed to help you mediate as well as mantras that are supposed to inspire you. The screen reads soothingly: "I accept life as it is and I appreciate the love I have." Ooookaaay.
But let's move along to the Classic mode. This is the "Bejeweled" you've come to know and love over the last decade, with some smart tweaks and a gorgeous gussied-up look. Yes, when it comes to your free time, this is the beginning of the end.
Leave it to the game that started you down the road to ruin ... to start you down that road once again.
Winda Benedetti's editor thinks she's busy writing about games for msnbc.com. But she's really just busy playing "Bejeweled 3." You can follow her tweets about games and other things right here on Twitter.