It’s that time of year again. Time for entertaining family you see once a year, wearing your credit card’s stripe through while blowing past your limit, and decorating your tree while another ball shatters on the ground. Well, with Anawiki Games’ The Perfect Tree, there’s something that can be done about that last thing, but it’s so much work that you’ll probably want to deal with Aunt Ethyl’s perfume overdose than another level.

Your completely non-descript match-three game, The Perfect Tree has only one thing to do: earn stars to buy ornaments for your empty tree to make it all pretty and such. You earn stars by making matches over purple tiles (or gold ones which need to be matched over twice!).

That’s about it, really. Although it seems Grinchy, this is the extent of The Perfect Tree.

The game does have its good points. The graphics are slick. The backgrounds are really quite beautiful, and the tiles are bright and colorful. The Christmas theme is bright and cheery, helping bring that Yuletidespirit to your screen. The music is high-quality too, but sometimes walking a fine line of copyright infringement (that main theme is about three notes away from Jingle Bells).

Otherwise, the rest of the game ranges from ho-hum to downright aggravating. First off, finishing levels means clearing every last purple tile. Very often, one tile will remain. To combat this, most games have power-ups (such as Jewel Quest‘s Specials, which allow you to target a specific tile on the board). While The Perfect Tree does have certain power-ups, they’re not particularly useful. While making matches of four or five tiles grants power-ups that destroy groups, rows or columns of tiles, they appear randomly rather than somewhere they could actually be useful. Make a power-up, and it will appear on the opposite side of the board. Very few of them reach across the whole playfield, so they fail to be helpful. The only power-up that has a chance is a swirly-looking icon that destroys random tiles on the board, but that will only help by chance.

Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with that one tile that’s isolated either on the bottom, top or sides. You know the one: the one that there’s no chance to have a match made nearby, and all you can hope to do is keep matching until the right icon falls, yet doesn’t get cleared by accident while descending. Sometimes, this one remaining tile is also locked, meaning it has to be matched twice, meaning you’ll be hoping for that much longer. The game offers both Timed and Relaxed modes; if you’re playing Timed mode, be prepared to lose a lot.

With 110 levels (not a bad amount, mind you), the gameplay gets monotonous quickly. There are no modes or achievements; the only reward is earning stars for your tree.

Since the tree is the focus of The Perfect Tree, it should be great. And at first, it is. The tree exudes a fun canvas of possibilities. There are a lot of ornaments and decorations to choose from, ranging from balls to stars to lights to even presents for under the tree. Each is fun and colorful and bright.

However, someone must not have mentioned how economics works to The Perfect Tree‘s elves.  Scrolling over to the lights category, an orange light caught my eye. Since your average ball ornament is around ten stars, and the orange light costs 50, you’d think it’s a short string to go around one level of the tree, right? It was one light. One, single, solitary blinking orange light. For 50 stars.

Also, the fact you can’t print, share or save your tree in any form other than looking at it in the game is a lost opportunity. It would have been great to be able to print out a copy, email it to a friend as a Christmas card, or save it to your computer’s desktop, for example.

It’s a shame, too. The Perfect Tree draws you in with bright, cheery possibility, then drags you down with boredom, minutiae and frustration. Wait, I guess it could be just like Christmas.

Just kidding about that last bit. Have a Merry Christmas, Gamezeboans! And if you have one, go put another ornament on your real tree, and give Aunt Ethyl a big hug.