Reflexive Entertainment’s match-three underwater adventure, Big Kahuna Reef, might take a relaxed approach to the match-three genre, though it still sucks you like a mighty, deep-water whirlpool.
In Big Kahuna Reef, you swap two icons to match thee in a row, causing all the tiles above it to cascade down, possibly creating a chain reaction of additional matches. As matches are made, the wooden crates behind them burst open, freeing underwater creatures back ito their tranquil habitat.
Some crates have only one level of protection, while others have a steel front — or worse yet, multiple locks, requiring several one matches to truly break it open. Never mind the concussions created by the bursting crates – the digital reef will be just fine, but the board will continue to fill with sea worthy icons.
The goal of the main game is to burst all the crates and free all the fish before the 10-minute Tiki Totem timer runs out. Otherwise, you’ll need to cash in one life to extend the game by three minutes, or risk it and try to finish it within the remaining minute.
Clearing crates also wakes the Tiki Totem, raising it higher – along with the point value – for each consecutive trio until too much time passes between broken crates.
Big Kahuna Reef features large, uniquely shaped playing areas. Forget the standard rectangle and watch objects flow down slopes and slide around corners on anchor, boat and other themed shapes. Keeping to the theme, fish randomly swim by as you play, rarely interfering with the game.
The only organic obstacles are creepy glowing fish – the Skeleton Fish of Kamehameha – that drop onto the board. If you are forced to match up three, they will reconstruct the cleared crates underneath. Otherwise, if you can cause three of the to fall together, they will simply vanish like a regular match.
Completing multiple threesomes activates a Fish Net power up that allows you to knock out the icon on any one square. The Net can be very helpful in forming a triad to burst a pesky, hard-to-get crate, but only if you use good strategy and the new void fills in your favor.
Big Kahuna Reef is completely played using your mouse and even lets you connect more than one mouse – er, mice – for multiplayer fun in the Mouse Party mode.
In the competitive multiplayer game you try to make more triplets that your opponent, coloring squares with each match to mark your conquered spots; the player with the most spaces at the end is the winner. This mode also allows several gamers to help to clear the same board.
A Relaxed Mode is included in the price of the game, where you can replay a completed level at your leisure without the constraints of the pesky Tiki Totem Timer. You can also go in at any time and switch out the pingy Polynesian music for simple, serine sounds of waves lapping on an unseen shore to create a completely relaxed mood.
As a clever extra, Big Kahuna Reef also includes a virtual fish tank in the Fish Screen mode, where you can drop in all the fish you unlocked by clearing level, then turn off the buttons and enjoy. (Oh, and it doesn’t eat up any of your trial period).
The game’s main hang up is that some of the larger, more creatively shaped levels have too many small crevices or corners where it can become nearly impossible to get the right tiles in place for a proper match up. Then it becomes a speed event, trying to earn another Fish Net to try and force a match.
It’s quite easy to use up the 60-minute trial period allowing enough time to complete about 10 to 14 of the game’s 150 levels. Even if you manage to get bored with the many, many boards you can play over and over again, you can also create your own playable levels from scratch with the Level Editor.
Unfortunately, the level editor does not come with any instructions or support and it is a little difficult to use. Otherwise, user-created levels are available from bigkahunareef.com/levels that are easy to add to the game. (My favorite, and maybe the silliest, are the single-move levels.)
Big Kahuna Reef is a fun match-three game with many great looking, replayable levels and a cute theme that doesn’t get annoying. Plus, the screen saver mode is a nice addition, not to mention the nearly endless supply of downloadable, user-created levels. It’s definitely worth a download, though pay attention to the click and the tide when playing, otherwise you might be unexpectedly swept out to sea.