Before we begin, let’s go through our beach vacation equipment checklist. Swim fins? Check! Snorkel and mask? Check! Bomb squad gear? Err … check?

We’re going to need it all for Big Kahuna Reef 2: Chain Reaction. With Reflexive Entertainment’s explosive new entrant into the match-three arena, and sequel to their 2004 super-hit Big Kahuna Reef, they seem intent on disturbing the peace of the seas.

Game mechanics are simple. Swap two adjacent pieces on the board with your mouse. If they form a line of three or more, they burst, you get points and the hole is filled in from above. Create matches on top of wooden and metal tiles, breaking them in the process, and exotic fish are released to swim around the game board. For an added challenge, some pieces are chained in place and need to be broken free with a match before they can be swapped.

Big Kahuna Reef 2 gives you the option to play with or without a clock running. So, it is up to you whether to play it fast and frantic or slow and thoughtful. The two game modes offered, Kahuna Quest and Tiki Challenge, are similar in nature, though the latter contains more challenging levels and rewards you with a greater number of fish.

Subtitled Chain Reaction, the game’s labeling plays out in a couple ways. First, are bombs. Match five pieces in a row and you’re given a bomb that destroys some of the tiles around it when double-clicked, and even more if strategically swapped with another piece. If you match more than five, the bomb gets bigger, to the point of taking out a quarter of the board in a nuclear blast. Moreover, every tenth level is a bomb-stravaganza, where explosions reach all corners of the screen.

Chain Reaction levels bring another explosive element to the sea. Swap the right puzzle pieces and you set off a cascade of combos that will put you on the path to a big score. The more boxes you break in rapid succession, the larger your "Tiki Totem" (a reward indicator) grows and the more points you pick up.

Big Kahuna Reef 2 will seem largely familiar to anyone who played the original. There’s just a lot more of it:

 

  • A whopping 700 levels, with even more available for download.

     

     

  • Over 40 sea creatures to unlock for your virtual aquarium or screensaver, from scuttling shrimp to humongous humpback whales.

     

     

  • An improved, though intimidating, level editor that lets you draw your own line art and create your own levels.

 

Thankfully, one of the most interesting and fun features of Big Kahuna Reef has made a return in the sequel. In Mouse Party, you can plug up to eight mice into your PC for multiplayer mayhem. Here, all players make matches at the same time, competing to fill the board with their color. Whoever controls the most territory at the end wins. It’s a great feature.

I’ve become convinced, after years of evidence, that Reflexive is actually incapable of creating anything but beautiful games. The gorgeous backdrops and colorful, naturally-animated fish create as serene a setting as you could hope for in this title. Turn on the optional wave-crashing soundtrack and you can get lost for hours, be it in the game or running in screen-saver mode.

Big Kahuna Reef 2 is, on the surface, a feature-rich match-three puzzler. But, down in its briny depths are some flaws that rob the game of its true potential, and a higher score. Many levels just take too long, filled with metal shields and multi-chains requiring too many matches to clear. They can’t be played in a quick sitting, and finishing a level becomes more a chore than a pleasure. Also, the fishing net tool, that removes a piece from play, is strategically useful, but it isn’t always able to rid you of that last stubborn tile. Maybe if you could use it to swap in any piece of your choosing, or if you had some extra bombs to lay down, the pace could be quickened.

Flaws aside, it’s a great game for puzzle fans, fish fanatics and bombardiers alike. Get your gear on and hit the waves. Big Kahuna Reef 2: Chain Reaction is waiting.