It just goes to show you can’t keep a good game down… Three episodes deep into the world’s most popular hieroglyphic-themed puzzler and we’re still head over heels in love with Luxor 3‘s action-packed, color-matching formula. But to be frank, with graphics, sound effects and gameplay this good, well… it’s no wonder the multimillion-selling franchise has practically got the entire world walking like an Egyptian.

The current story begins with the death of a young pharaoh, who can’t ascend to the afterlife until his pyramid is complete. But first, his ka, or spirit, must help the gods of the realm defend against evil deity Set’s minions, bent on stealing their essences. Throwaway plot aside though, all you really need to know is that you’re in for a real treat here, with innovations offered aplenty in terms of mid-mission options and general play modes. Then again, we do also have to point out… solid as these bonuses are, one shouldn’t expect as much in terms of sweeping enhancements when it comes to basic game fundamentals, stage designs or power-ups.

But first, allow us to summarize the experience for the uninitiated. Once again, you’ll slide your mouse left/right to move a winged shooter, located at the bottom of the screen, in horizontal fashion. Your goal, of course, being to prevent onrushing hordes of colored spheres, pushed by evil scarabs around circuitous levels, from reaching a set end-level point. The secret to doing so: Left-clicking (or right-clicking to change the color of ammo being used first) to shoot colored balls upwards, with groups of similarly-hued spheres disappearing when three or more come into contact. Also worth noting: If you destroy a sequence that’s bookended by balls of the same color, these remaining objects will be magnetically drawn together, instantly closing the gap and letting you create potentially huge combos.

Audio-visually, little’s changed conceptually from the last installment, with brilliant 3D backdrops based on sea serpents, starry constellations and shattered ruins complemented by a sweeping orchestral soundtrack all proving attention-getting as ever. However, several fun new added touches really help flesh out the action, like canopic jars you can collect for access to bonus stages or reflectors off of which balls can be bounced.

Likewise, while gems again fall from the sky for you to collect, they’re also accompanied by coins that can be spent between stages upgrading power-ups’ effectiveness, or purchasing new ball sets (wood, glass, energy) and snazzier shooters. What’s more, a few extra power-ups also join the usual mix of slow, reverse and color cloud-style options, including a sandstorm that destroys tons of spheres and scorpion that skitters along stage pathways annihilating anything it touches.

By far the biggest change in store for series vets, however, is the inclusion of multiple game modes. Playing the campaign-style Adventure, throughout which you’ll slowly watch your pyramid grow, expect to encounter various original challenge types. For example, Onslaught mode forces you to destroy randomly re-spawning statues that speed balls’ progress through given levels.

On the flip side, puzzle mode gives you all the time you need to clear a stage, but only a set number of spheres with which to do so (although you can always skip these scenarios as desired). Crossing the Nile, conversely, demands that you finish off a scarab at the top of the screen, with several of his buddies running defense by constantly rolling shot-impeding chains of spheres across the landscape below. Survival requires you to stay alive until a set timer runs down. And Treasure Hunter just awards bonus points (required for unlocking certain store-based rewards) by blasting as many scarabs as humanly possible.

Nonetheless, most impressive is the title’s overall improved polish and hands-on flow. Suffice it to say that the game looks, handles and moves much slicker than in previous editions, with the designers even going so far as to listen to constructive criticism and fix past complaints, such as issues with the timing when new chains of balls appear.

Granted, these gains are strictly incremental, and hardly the revolution longtime fans had hoped for. And certainly, the difficulty level, even when set to Medium, as most will likely opt for, is taxing to say the least. But honestly, who are we kidding? Suave, sophisticated and sweet a way to kill 15 minutes here and there as Luxor 3 really is, heck… There’s no sense wasting time complaining when you could instead be experiencing how addictively engaging the title is for yourself. Sequel, anyone?