Whoever said you can’t create something fresh from an existing concept obviously hasn’t downloaded Spandex Force, an entertaining 3-in-a-row puzzler wrapped up in a run story-driven role-playing game (RPG) theme.

Players first customize a superhero by select a name (and secret identity name), gender and hair, skin, eyes and body color. Once create you’re whisked to the crime-infested town of Vigilance Valley, where you’ll see an overhead view of the bustling town with its citizens roaming about.

Within moments you’ll see someone who needs help and you’ll click on them to hear what the problem is, whether an old lady needs you to rescue her cat from a tree, you’re asked to stop a falling piano from landing on a victim’s head or prevent a mugging. Each scene is accompanied by humorous animation and campy dialogue (example: “That’s one piano that won’t be threatening my fair city again!”).

Depending on the mission, you’ll play a 3-in-a-row game, which will be familiar to fans of these types of gem-swapping puzzles. But instead of rubies and emeralds laid out on a grid, it’s superpowers, coins and other goodies (more on this in a moment). The three main kinds of game-play are swapping same-color adjacent tokens to match at last three or more vertically or horizontally (think Bejeweled), clicking and dragging entire vertical or horizontal rows to make a match (think Chuzzle) or clicking one token and holding down the mouse to make a long chain of same-colored adjacent tokens (think Heroes of Hellas).

Combat against villains, however, introduces a smart turn-based strategy game where you collect resources – by making 3-in-a-row matches – to unleash an attack on the opponent, with the intent to subtract points away from their overall total (e.g. 150 hit points). For example, you might make enough matches of the green elemental tokens to use your “Flaming Feet” kick towards the opponent, but then he’ll likely hit back with an attack such as a throwing knife, left hook or Molotov cocktail. Whoever drops down to zero first, loses, and the mission is over. This is an interesting way of combining 3-in-a-row token matching with a turn-based fighting mechanic.

Now, we mentioned Spandex Force is an RPG, so you can upgrade your character’s strength by performing well, purchase new superpowers from a gypsy (Precision Strike or Ridicule) or equip your hero (or heroine) with accessories from an old man by the sea (cloaks, canes, tiaras, and so on) that add to your hit points and grand you new skills to help in combat. You can also upgrade your base, which opens up new mini-games and missions. With the former, players might play a Concentration-like mini-game or click tokens on a road to make matches.

While collecting money, reputation points and clues, players will inch towards the overall goal, which is to find out who’s behind the city’s string of robberies.

While the RPG-meets-puzzle gameplay is similar to Puzzle Quest, casual gamers should find Spandex Force more appoachable since it doesn’t have the same harsh penalties and difficulty spikes. Combat requires players to choose which attack they want to use, which adds a layer of strategy since you need to choose an attack you have enough tokens for based on your 3-in-a-row play and keeping an eye on the opponent’s health to decide what move might be best.

By fusing puzzle, RPG and strategy game-play, Spandex Force proved to be a very entertaining adventure that proves you don’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to create a new experience. Kudos to KarjaSoft for successfully borrowing elements from other genres, smashing them together and tossing in cute graphics, humor and a story you want to click through to the end.