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Publisher: MacPlay    Genre: Puzzle & Trivia
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3 @ 233 MHz    RAM: 128 MB    Hard Disk: 35 MB    2x CD-ROM    Graphics: 640x480 @ 16-bit

Bejeweled & Alchemy
November 14, 2002 | Eddie Park

Click to enlarge

Title Screen
The creation of a good puzzle game is a tricky thing at best. Though rarely flashy in terms of graphics or sounds, successful puzzle games have always shared the same combination of traits: simple gameplay mechanics accompanied by a deviously tricky set of strategies that are a combination of foresight, speed, and luck.

This being said, it’s easy to see why PopCap Games has been so successful with their line of puzzle games. Already wildly successful on both the Palm and Windows platforms, two of PopCap’s top titles, Bejeweled and Alchemy, have been ported to the OS 9 & X platform courtesy of The Omni Group. Thanks to publisher MacPlay, both of these titles can be purchased in one shot, as they come packaged together as part of MacPlay’s Value Series.

As both titles come on the same CD, I’ll be reviewing them at the same time here, doing side-to-side comparisons when necessary. Thankfully, both games carry the same basic structure, so this won’t be that far of a stretch.

Jewels or Runes, Take Your Pick
Both Bejeweled and Alchemy are grid-based games, sporting 8x8 and 9x8 grids, respectively. However, Bejeweled is undoubtedly the simpler of the two in terms of game mechanics. As soon as a game starts, seven different kinds of jewels are dropped onto the board, filling it completely. From there, the activity is simple – any one jewel can be swapped with an adjacent one on a horizontal or vertical axis (no diagonals). The catch is that, when swapped, a row or column of 3 or more of the same type of jewel must be formed. When this occurs, those jewels will subsequently disappear, and the columns of jewels will drop down to fill the empty spaces left on the board. A meter at the bottom will slowly fill as rows are completed, and will kick the player to the next level when completely filled.

Alchemy, while also grid-based, takes a decidedly different approach in its play. The board starts completely devoid of pieces, which must be placed by the player. The goal is simple – convert every square on the board into gold by placing a magical rune on it. To meet this goal, players are given a series of runes in a variety of shapes, with each shape coming in several colors. The catch is, as players place the runes on the board, each rune must be placed adjacent to an existing one. In addition, each rune must share either the same color or the same shape as the one next to which it’s placed.

As one might imagine, placing runes becomes increasingly difficult as the board fills up. To make things easier, two additional pieces, including a universal rune and a rune destroyer, will pop up now and then. When an entire row or column on the board is filled with runes, it will disappear, clearing yet more room on the board for rune placement. When there’s simply no way to place a rune, players can elect to discard it, though this penalizes them by sending the rune to the forge. If the forge is filled with three runes, the game is over, though the forge also cools down each time a rune is placed on the board.


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