PopCap Games – Bookworm Adventures, Bejeweled 2, Zuma review

nicely addictive puzzle games
Photo of PopCap Games – Bookworm Adventures, Bejeweled 2, Zuma
£14.95 (each)

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Those who are bemoaning the supposed death of PC gaming are simply looking in the wrong places. Figures, for instance, have recently been trotted out about a sizeable year-on-year drop in PC game sales, yet these same figures don’t take into account online sales. And online is exactly where you’ll find evidence that no platform is as awash with new and interesting releases as the PC.

One of the publishers to have been enjoying real success from the growth of the online market is PopCap Games, which has steadily been building its reputation for some maddeningly addictive, easy-to-pick-up puzzle games, to the point where the company has shifted well over ten million of them. So let’s take a look at some of the latest titles.

Bookworm Adventures is a word game, tied to a simple little adventure. The idea is that you play the worm of the title, who moves through a series of battles across increasingly tricky levels. To strike a blow in a battle involves making as impressive a word as possible from your stash of letters. Yet complicating matters, in a good way, are a series of power-ups, of which you can choose three to take into any level.

These power-ups might increase the powers of your attacks, earn extra power for words of a certain category (e.g. metals), or fend off poison and stun offensive moves from your opponent. The power-ups, particularly those used by your opponents, get increasingly interesting: for instance, locking certain tiles until you use some form of antidote. And the game slowly builds up from the very easy early encounters to the extremely tricky later stages. We’d argue that you’ll be through the game within a weekend, but given the modest price tag, you’ll more than get your value from it.

Digging a little further back into the PopCap back catalogue is Bejeweled 2, which along with the PC version is enjoying a new lease of life on the Xbox 360 Live Arcade service. It is, at heart, a simple game of swapping coloured jewels, which are mapped out on a grid. You need to swap jewels that touch each other to create a line of at least three of the same colour. That line can run diagonally, horizontally or vertically. Three in a row causes said jewels to disappear and your points tally goes up. If you reach the target for a given level, before you run out of ways to move, then you move onto the next level, where things continue to get trickier.

Unlike Bookworm Adventures, Bejeweled 2 is a puzzle game that’s likely to attain Solitaire and Minesweeper-esque status on any machine it’s installed on. Under the radar of most PC gamers, it’s emerged as one of the very best PC puzzle games of the past few years, thanks to its maddeningly addictive qualities and bargain price tag. Be warned, though: get hooked and the sight of coloured jewels will seemingly seep under your eyelids.

Finally for this round-up, another game that’s earned a crust on the Xbox download service: Zuma. A simple concept again, this time involving firing coloured balls, ideally with some precision. The idea is that they hit other balls and when at least three of the same colour match, they disappear. The challenge then is to clear all the balls before they sneak over the line and cause you to lose a life.

Once again, though, an explanation of the concept if anything complicates what’s a sublime and simple game. For the truth is that Zuma is maddeningly addictive and very good fun.

Not every entry in the PopCap canon is a classic, although we’d throw our recommendation behind any of the three games we’ve taken a look at here. Yet the majority of the titles from this company have a good deal of playability about them, and the firm has the rare knack of producing titles that are easy to learn, yet very demanding to complete. Do give them a try.

Company: PopCap Games

Three cracking little puzzle games and each of them is under £15. Bargain, although with a bit of research you may be able to find similar games to one or two of those reviewed here in the freeware arena.