Puzzle games are the celebrity autobiographies of the video game world. With no need for story and virtually guaranteed sales, they represent a safe bet for developers as much as for the consumers who buy them.
And most puzzle games, to be fair, are perfectly playable. Just as gaudy tomes like Rags to Ritchie can help pass a dire commute, a good puzzle game can distract you from the tedium of life with its subtle hypnotism of logic and repetition.
The only fault with many puzzle games is that they lack ambition, and Puzzle Magic 3 is more guilty than most.
The object is to manoeuvre matching blocks together by sliding them horizontally around the level until they make contact with each other and disintegrate, ascending to puzzleblock heaven. In the early stages, there are generally two blocks of each kind – blue diamonds, say, or constipated yellow faces – to match up, but as the game progresses the number obviously increases.
The great obstacle in the first place is making sure you don't negligently situate the blocks so that the pairs cannot come together – for instance, because there's a block of a different colour between them. Although avoiding this outcome in the first few levels is straightforward enough, Puzzle Magic 3 delivers a sucker punch of escalating difficulty after just a handful of levels.
The curve is steep, but it is manageable. When it becomes necessary to match three blocks of the same colour and design, the amount of organisation and circumspection necessary to complete a level increases again, and the trickiness grows exponentially as you climb the 60 rungs of the game's ladder to victory.
Unless you are a genius, reaching the top will take time and mental effort. Puzzle Magic 3 is no pushover, and its difficulty adds greatly to its longevity. Indeed, those who refuse to be defeated by a game will still be playing this for weeks.
In terms of presentation, Puzzle Magic 3 is a queer mishmash of stock components, as though the designers emptied a box of stock puzzle game props onto the desktop and said, 'We'll take the lot'. In the background there are mountainscapes, stars, and grinding cogs, whilst the playing environment is made up of such stalwarts as candycanes and scaffolds.
The set of sprites is similarly derivative, comprising jewels, faces, random symbols, and pieces of fruit. Naturally, the effect is shambolic, and Puzzle Magic 3 would undoubtedly have benefited from a simpler, cleaner look.
But beneath the clutter, this is a very passable game. It may lack originality and variety, but the gameplay is well-constructed – neither too pacy nor too sluggish – and the level design, whilst it initially appears haphazard, is sharp.
The levels demand serious concentration and completing one can be immensely satisfying. It's not a barnstormer by any means, but Puzzle Magic 3 is a worthwhile title nevertheless, with just about enough quality to lure a determined player through all its levels.