What’s a genie without his magical powers? Not much apparently, which is why you have to help the little purple guy get his mojo back in SandScript, the latest word game from PlayFirst and Viqua Games.

Your spelling prowess and vocabulary will be put to the test as you wander through the desert deciphering and unscrambling words to earn treasure. Two modes of play, Genie’s Quest and 1001 Nights, are available immediately, while a third mode, Sultan’s Challenge, can be unlocked.

Genie’s Quest is an 80-level journey through pyramids and ruins, celestial cities and bazaars on the way to the ultimate goal of the Ivory Palace.

During each level you’ll be challenged to decipher as many of the mystery words as possible before time runs out. You’re given a row of blank spaces with the first letter of the word filled in, and a definition of the word: For example, I_ _ _ _ _ _ _ “surgical cut; slit.”

From there, you can guess what the word is by either clicking on letters with the mouse or typing them with the keyboard. For the record, we much preferred using the keyboard. Points are awarded for guessing quickly and racking up consecutive correct guesses. (If you’re still wondering, the word was “INCISION.”)

The number of incorrect guesses you’re allowed to make is represented by a set of gems. Guess a wrong letter and one of the gems disappears. If they’re all gone, it’s Round Over, but any gems remaining at the end of a successfully completed round will net you bonus points. If you do happen to bow out of a round or quit the game mid-round, you can thankfully start from where you left off.

There are also special bonus points and “charms” that appear inside blank spaces and can be acquired by guessing the correct letter inside that space. The charms can be used at any time to throw little hints your way, such as revealing vowels or revealing a letter. These elusive bonuses don’t last forever, though. After more than two wrong guesses, they’ll disappear off the playing field for good.

A timer fills with sand for each correct answer given. Once the minimum goal for passing the level has been reached, you can shoot for Expert status which will result in better treasure at the end of the stage.

1001 Nights is basically a survival mode where the goal is to see how long you can last with a limited number of gems. Each “night” has six words to decipher, and as an added challenge, each time you complete a level, the amount of gems in your reserve decreases.

The third mode, Sultan’s Challenge, is offered as an after-level bonus in Genie’s Quest to players who manage to collect all the charms to spell “b-o-n-u-s” in a given level. After unlocking the Sultan’s Challenge bonus game in Genie’s Quest, players can also access it separately from the game’s main menu. The goal here is simply to descramble as many scrambled words as possible before time runs out. You can choose from 3 to 7 letters in length; deciphering the larger and therefore more difficult words nets you the most points. You can reshuffle the letters without getting a time penalty, which is a nice touch.

Keeping in mind that the game wasn’t quite finished yet when we got our hands on it to preview, we’re happy to report good production values all around. The sensual Arabian Nights-flavored soundtrack (complete with some very lifelike flute, sitar and harp sounds) stood out in a big way.

With hints of hangman, Wheel of Fortune and a middle-school spelling bee, SandScript seems well on the way to pleasing wordsmiths of all stripes when it makes its official debut very soon.