Vesuvia offers innovative match-3 gameplay as you explore a cursed island.

A man washes up on the beach of an island, the victim of a shipwreck. What was the strange face that he saw just before his boat capsized in the storm, and who wrote those messages in the sand as he lay unconscious? You’ll try to find the answer to those questions and more in Vesuvia, a match-3 puzzle game with more than a few new tricks up its sleeve.

In Vesuvia you’ll swap tiles to match three or more and clear them from the board, causing the tiles above to slide in and fill the space left behind. That basic mechanic serves as a jumping off point for some interesting innovations. For starters, the entire playfield is not visible all at once. Whenever you make a match, the camera shifts slightly in that direction to reveal a little more of the area.

The goal isn’t just to explore the entire board and uncover certain special tiles depicted that reveal key items, like compass pieces and keys, that allow you to explore even more of the board and ultimately find the exit.

As you explore the island and learn more about its dark secret, you’ll pass through different kinds of terrain that each have their own unique set of tiles and challenges to overcome. You’ll encounter enraged animals that have to be subdued, water barriers that can’t be crossed until you uncover a raft, darkened areas that must be illuminated by clicking on torches embedded into the playfield, and more.

In addition to temporary items, like rafts, which are used once and then disappear once the level ends, there are also permanent items that you can find that become your equipment. You can equip up to four of these at a time, and they act as power-ups to offer assistance. The whip, for example, allows you to quickly jump to another part of the playfield, while the dynamite blows up a certain number of tiles within a given radius. Equipment requires a certain amount of energy to use, which you charge up by matching tiles of certain colors, a la Puzzle Quest.

In Quest Mode you’re given the choice to play with a timer or without. If Timed mode becomes to hectic (or if Untimed mode isn’t challenging enough), you can switch back through the Options menu. there’s also a second mode, Frenzy, where you play for 60 seconds and try to achieve a high score.

Vesuvia‘s story offers a good mystery to be solved, and the gameplay manages to capture that same spirit of exploration by requiring the player to literally move around and overcome hazards and obstacles in the context of match-3. In between voice-acted cutscenes, the story is moved forward by short journal entries in between levels that could have been more descriptive and colorful. The gameplay, too, does start to feel slightly rote after a while in spite of the innovation. However, the production values are good, gameplay is solid, and the mystery is compelling enough that most players will probably want to play to the end to find out what happens.