There comes a time in all of our gameplaying lives when even our best-loved games start to feel a little stale. Even the mighty Zuma from PopCap? Yes, even Zuma. Which is why we so appreciated what Dekovir Entertainment has done with its Chameleon Gems, a knockoff with a twist.

Compare the two and you’ll notice more similarities than differences. In both games, you control a central creature — a ball-spitting frog in Zuma and a gem-spitting chameleon, of course, in Chameleon Gems. By rotating the little beasts, you shoot the colored objects from their mouths at long, snaking lines of similar objects; if you create three-of-a-kind matches, they vanish. Gamers who take their time soon lose the battle as the advancing balls/gems head straight for and plop into fathomless pits.

But Chameleon Gems differs by adding everyone’s favorite pastime — shopping — to the mix and, as a result, comes out a winner. Blasting gems earns not only points but bucks that can be spent at the end of each level for an assortment of power-ups, including additional lives and new skins that bestow gem-stopping abilities. For instance, fireballs can fry gems, ice blasts can freeze them, rock guns can shoot them, and laser eyes can burn them. There are also rainbows that can match any color, snails that slow the gems from advancing, eagle eyes that improve aiming, and rollbacks that, well, roll back the gems. The trick is to decide whether to bankroll enough to buy the higher-priced, more-powerful goodies or to quickly snap up the bargains that may be less effective. Decisions, decisions.

The effect of having such power-ups at your disposal is that Chameleon Gems becomes a simpler game than it would have been without them, especially when you can resort to using weapons rather than creating matches to gain points. We’ve already accumulated 1-1/2 million points — putting us on the top of the "high score" leader board — and are still climbing. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, how easy or difficult do you like your gaming?

However, despite the fact that Chameleon Gems boasts 105 levels, it shortchanges gamers who are used to most games that come with two — even three — modes of play. Instead, Chameleon Gems offers only one – "adventure"-type play in which you advance from level to level – and lacks "continuous"-style game mode in which your endurance is tested as you continue without a break until you collapse from exhaustion.

We also would have preferred a top-down perspective to the 3-D graphics which permit gamers to adjust their "camera," tilting, circling, and zooming with a mouse touch. That’s because we found ourselves so caught up in trying to win the game, that we never found the need to change the view … nor would we have had the dexterity to do that and shoot gems at the same time. You can’t blame the game for that; the aiming mechanism is as smooth as silk as the chameleon rotates and follows your mouse pointer precisely.

Chameleon Gems is the kind of game that will hook you and keep you going for hours, coaxing you on to play "just one more level" with the promise of more money to buy better power-ups. And there are plenty of ways to add to those savings — by making successful combo shots, gap shots, and by beating the "goal time" on each level, to name just a few. A "world map" shows you exactly where you are on your journey to the finale at the 15th level. C’mon, we’ll race you!