When was your last truly relaxing vacation? You know what I mean, a quality break from the pressures of life to unwind and clear your mind. Yeah, same here, and that mental respite’s long overdue. We’re not the only ones either. While taking a well-earned vacation, Professor Fizzwizzle’s investigation of an odd volcano landed him in the hot seat. So, forget about working on that tan and sipping Pina Coladas. The Professor needs your help!

The third installment in the Fizzwizzle universe, following the original Professor Fizzwizzle brainteaser and the action-oriented FizzBall, Professor Fizzwizzle and the Molten Mystery continues the antics of the puzzle-busting professor. In his first outing, the diminutive genius employed his brain and a collection of gadgets to get past his rampaging robots and back into his lab. This time he battles wits with Penny Pyroclast, a star pupil gone bad.

Like the original, Molten Mystery offers a collection of conundrums in the vein of classic puzzlers. Your goal? Successfully move Fizzwizzle from Point A to Point B. It’s simple enough in concept, but demanding in execution.

As for play, a single mode is offered but variety comes via three varied skill levels: Kids, Regular and Advanced. Kids’ levels are overtly easy. Regular provides a moderate challenge with several ringers thrown in to ramp up the brain-teasing goodness. Advanced, conversely, lives up to its moniker right out of the gate. So, save these levels for last. Puzzles aren’t timed, allowing you to play at your own pace, but “footsteps” (moves) count – the fewer taken the better. In all, 211 puzzles are included, 76 Kids’ levels, 85 Regular and 50 Advanced.

Professor Fizzwizzle negotiates his world via mouse or keyboard, the latter being preferred. It’s simply more precise than the mouse. Arrow keys handle directional movement up, down, left and right, while the number keys deploy objects and gadgets collected (controls are user configurable). Although he can’t jump, Fizzwizzle does duck under things when required.

Several key objects are encountered in the course of play. As you tackle puzzles, you need to manipulate items like crates, barrels, switches, gates and magnets. Gadgets play a key role, too, such as Heat and Frost Guns, inflatable barrels and crates, and whistles. Game objects also behave according to physics. Push one off an edge and it falls, magnets attract or repel each other, objects slip on ice and get bogged down in sand, and the use of heat and cold have appropriate results. All must be employed at some point to move the Professor from the entry to the exit of each level.

Solutions to most puzzles eventually become evident, at least on Kids’ and Regular levels. Slide a crate there, roll a barrel here, melt those ice blocks and step on this switch. But, for those occasions when you’re stumped and the answer eludes you, Professor Fizzwizzle has a neat feature to relieve frustration and keep you from quitting in disgust, Show Solution. Choose this option for the given puzzle and Fizzwizzle will solve the level on his own while you watch.

That’s not the only cool feature, though it tops the list. Other amenities include an online High Scores system for comparing your skills to others, a Step Counter to track the number of moves made, over 25 tutorial levels, a full-featured Level Editor to create your own levels, a Level Manager to download those created by others and keep track of ones you’ve completed, and the ability to restart a level or simply undo your last move.

Overall, Molten Mystery‘s visually appealing in a Saturday-morning-cartoon way, featuring humorously-animated graphics in a cell-shaded style. They’re good, though an increase in resolution and detail would be welcomed. Music is quirky, and while the number of tunes is limited it pretty much goes unnoticed. Game mechanics are simple and instructions are clear. Plus, its family-friendly nature makes this an excellent game for kids to grandparents and everyone in between. The game’s even available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Still, like most titles in the puzzle-solving category, this one tends to lack replay value. Once you’ve completed the included levels you have little reason to do so again. Thanks to the built-in editor, play is extensible somewhat due to user-created offerings. At present, nearly 50 more levels can be downloaded, but quality varies.

In the end, Professor Fizzwizzle and the Molten Mystery is a great diversion. While the story is definitely youth-oriented, gameplay spans all ages. It’s easy enough for kids to enjoy while sufficiently challenging for adults. This is one nutty professor that appeals to everyone.