Avalon, Merlin and Morganna le Fay. Familiar references if you’re up on Arthurian legend. It’s a tale of magic, beauty and evil that spans the centuries. And, in Runes of Avalon, it’s woven into a puzzler with a match-three mechanic as intriguing as the story itself.

According to the legend, Avalon is threatened by a growing evil. The wicked Morganna has imprisoned Merlin and is corrupting the land. And, only you can rescue your master from her grasp and put an end to her nefarious plans.

Runes, used for writing, divination and magic, are based on an ancient Germanic alphabet used in northern Europe, the British Isles, Iceland and Scandinavia from about 100 BC to 1600 AD. Also called futharks, the symbols bear a resemblance to characters from the Latin alphabet. Runes of Avalon is based on these runic symbols. However, it’s more a matter of matching colors and shapes, than understanding the runes themselves.

Three game modes — Quest, Endless and Time Attack — engage you. In Quest Mode, the story leads you through 105 challenging levels peppered with mini-games. The first is puzzle-based, charging you with the task of rearranging puzzle pieces to reveal an image. The other involves matching a sequence of runes. Choose the correct runes and you’ll receive a new spell. Endless and Time Attack? Well, they’re what you’d expect — continuous and time-based levels respectively.

Runes of Avalon falls neatly into the match-three genre, but does so with a twist. Rather than appearing one at a time, runes are dispensed in Tetris-like groups. Comprised of one, two or three runes each, segments are placed on a board, already sprinkled with runes, in an effort to join three or more runes of the same color in a horizontal or vertical line, making a match and removing the runes from play. These groupings can be the same color or a mixture and, Tetris-style, are rotated with the right mouse button and placed with the left.

When three or more runes of the same color are aligned, they’re “released” as magic that’s absorbed into a container. The goal is to fill the containers, one for each color, to complete a level before time runs out. Align four or more runes or absorb two or more colors of rune magic and a spell is generated and placed on the board. Line up five or more runes and you’ll receive a point bonus, while creating two-color matches generates a combo. Also in Tetris fashion, the next grouping of runes is shown in advance.

Spells (power-ups) are extremely important to play. A total of six are available, including the…

  • Bomb Spell: Clears runes in a five-by-five area.

  • Teleport Spell: Switches runes at random.

  • Vanish Spell: Removes runes indiscriminately.

  • Holy Fire Spell: Clears all runes in a cross shape.

  • Heal Spell: Releases locked runes and turns stones into locked runes.

  • Color Drain Spell: Removes all runes of a single color.

    Important as they are, you have very little control over spells as they’re generated randomly. The short and simple rule, however, is to include them in matches as soon as possible, especially as levels increase in difficulty.

    Runes of Avalon is an engaging game featuring exceptional music, superb visuals, a pair of interesting mini-games and a good deal of variation from one level to the next. What it sets out to accomplish it does well. That is, provide a Tetris-like twist to the match-three genre.

    Where the magic fails to impress, however, is the story. Not that it’s poorly written, mind you. But, at 23 pages in length, it just drags on too long. Enough to detract from play. After a while, most will simply bypass the story to get to the next level. If you’re a fan of Arthurian legend and enjoy reading more than playing, maybe you’ll be glued to the tale. Most gamers won’t.

    Other issues also interfere with overall enjoyment. In particular, once you reach level 30, play becomes frustrating. With no difficulty adjustment, you’re stuck replaying some levels over and over again. This shouldn’t occur a third of the way through the game. Plus, vocals are annoying, menu layout is inconsistent and confusing, and the “Download and Play New Levels” feature in Time Attack and Endless modes doesn’t work.

    In the end, Runes of Avalon is an enjoyable puzzler that fails to live up to its full potential. So, visit the legendary isle before plunking down your hard-earned coinage. It may cast its spell over you, or it may not.