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With Christmas just around the corner, millions of wide-eyed gaming enthusiasts worldwide are already drooling with anticipation, wondering just what goodies Santa will bring.

Ironically enough though, the best gift of all you’re likely to receive will come courtesy not of Saint Nick, but rather Alawar Entertainment, who’s actually releasing ambitious new brick-basher Magic Ball 3 on December 25th itself.

Offering a host of fresh graphical upgrades, imaginative power-ups and assorted enhancements, we’re confident fans of the best-selling series’ first two installments will be more than delighted by the improvements made here.

Surprise: As the story opens, it’s discovered the evil wizard whom you’d previously defeated and barred from our dimension has escaped and stolen more of reality itself. Summoning a colored paddle and the most fearsome of weapons – a magic ball capable of undoing his spells and freeing the knights, cowboys and pirates he’s imprisoned – you promptly set out for the warlock’s enchanted castle.

Forget the storyline, however… This one’s all about storming gorgeous 3D playfields (e.g. roiling seascapes, quaint hamlets and charming pastoral scenes crawling with wildlife) and using a paddle to smash the living snot out of any object or critter occupying them. Destroy enough on-screen items, and you’ll be rewarded with a glowing badge, which, when collected, sends you skipping off to the next level where you’ll repeat the process all over again.

The thing that’s so striking here – and will immediately wow fans of previous Magic Ball adventures – is how amazing a graphical upgrade everything’s been given. Holding the right mouse button down to tilt environments or just observing stages from the default view, you’ll instantly be amazed at how detailed the visuals now are. Literally covered in painstakingly-rendered palm trees, treasure chests, villas, scarecrows, doubloons and other random objects, each stage is essentially composed of several moving figures (see: swimming sharks’ fins, bubbling brooks) set atop eye-catching multi-tiered environments.

Better yet, featured backdrops, designed to look like bridge-supported seaside island hideaways, verdant townships and quiet forest scenes, are specifically made to splinter apart. The more havoc you wreak on low-lying objects such as patches of grass and stone supports, the likelier it is gambrel-roofed homes, stacks of playing cards and pyramids of baying sheep (don’t ask) come tumbling down. From broken windows to unhinged doors and floating rigging, nearly all this debris must be cleared by swatting bouncing balls at the rubble, though at times it seems there’s no end to the chaos.

But with hilarious characters like shambling skeletons, sword-bearing buccaneers and grunting apes to deal with as well, fear not. You’ll be too busy attempting to keep single or multiple balls in play – let any zip past you and you lose one of your limited stock of lives – to stop and think about it.

A ton of power-ups further ups the mayhem factor, appearing with greater frequency the more wreckage you smash. Just a few temporary positive/negative effect-bestowing items that you can collect as you tackle the title’s 80-plus missions:

  • Thunderbolts and meteor swarms that rain down, randomly destroying on-screen objects.

  • Yo-yo bonuses which give you some limited control over the ball’s movement.

  • Wind, which blows certain objects around the environment.

  • Cannons, lasers, bazookas and machineguns which shoot powerful projectiles on-command.

  • Paddle-shrinking and -growing collectibles.

  • Ball-slowing or -speeding extras.

  • Skulls that result in instant death.

  • “Drunk” ball downgrades that cause spheres to wobble and sway unpredictably.

  • Sight-clouding annoyances that turn the clock from day to night, cloaking the screen in shadow.

As is obvious, there’s quite a bit of depth here, even to the music, which unpredictably swivels between toe-tapping calypso beats, catchy ragtime interludes and even the odd Irish dance tune.

All of which, naturally, ensures we can’t wait to see how the finished product turns out… Even if it unfortunately means having to anxiously bide our time until Xmas morning and cracking open this seemingly superb gift item along with the rest of our presents.