Whether you're a hardcore or a casual gamer, you have to admit that Bejeweled is one of the most influential games of the past decade (even though it was originally released in 2001). It's inspired countless spinoffs, knockoffs, and even a few sequels that you wouldn't expect from something as simple as a match-three puzzle game. In 2007, Infinite Interactive released Puzzle Quest, which uses Bejeweled as a basic template for the makings of a role-playing game. In the same vein, a few of my former classmates from the University of Texas at Dallas are working on a new Bejeweled-inspired fighting game called Puzzle Blitz.
Now, competitive puzzle games aren't new, but despite the superficial similarites, Puzzle Blitz felt much more reminiscent of traditional fighting games, thanks to being able to choose between characters with multiple abilities and the inclusion of health meters. Simply matching three colors starts a combo, but get five of a kind together and a bomb is sent to the opponent's screen, which can either be defused or deflected. Naturally, deflected bombs both grow in strength and have a shorter time, potentially turning the match into a deadly game of hot potato. On its own, this feels very similar to games such as Puyo Puyo or Puzzle League.
However, the truly competitive aspect of Blitz comes in the form of various spells the players can cast. Each character has a different combination of four spells (out of a possible eight, and potentially more furthur along in development). Some spells are meant to be threatening, such as freezing blocks to halt an opponent's movement, while others are more defensive, such as healing your character. Then there are tricky spells, which alter the opponent's controls or limit their viewpoint. Thanks to these spells, the game becomes much more strategy-focused, rather than concentrating on quick reflexes like a traditional puzzle game. This leads to decisions such as whether to focus on defusing a bomb, or to increase your mana to pull off a devastating spell. Not to mention, since each character has a different combination of spells, players can find a set that feels more personal.
Puzzle Blitz is still in the early stages of development. There is no single-player component, no A.I. to speak of, and background environments are merely cosmetic. I also had a few nitpicks with it, such as the cursor being a little too small, making it easy to lose track when a lot of particle effects are happening on screen. Blocks also fall a little slowly, forcing you to wait for them to land before you can make your next move. However, these issues can be easily fixed. With big-budget fighting games struggling to attract new players, the simplicity and accessibility of Puzzle Blitz should make it an attractive offering, even for players who don't normally play multiplayer games. In the time I had with it, I was cheering, yelling, and overall having a good time. The game is currently entered in Microsoft's Dream.Build.Play competition, and I wish the team the best of luck.