Andriy Vinchkovskiy and Pavel Lagutin figure that these days Bill Murray is too busy making cameos to deal with slime, so these days people are gonna need someone new to call when they've got a ghost problem. Popping Ghosts is a physics-based match-3 game about gems, ghouls, and questionable exorcisms. You're a spunky, sword-wielding, motorcycle riding chick with a chained ghost because it's rad that's why. The gameplay itself is fairly simple. Stab three or more chained ghosts of the same colour to remove them from the field, and give you a little more time on the clock. Connected ghosts will be linked by a line so they're easy to spot, and while you can remove single ghosts if you wish, you'll take a small penalty. Popped ghosts become gems which can be filtered down to the bottom of the screen, and once you've gathered a certain amount, your surly spectral assistant will appear and clear a portion of the board for you. The conditions for victory vary from stage to stage, but the ticking clock rarely does. Some stages have special ghosts, such as those locked in cages that need to be destroyed by multiple bomb detonations, icy ghosts who will sneakily spread their freeze to others around them, and more. Ghosts may be jerks, but they are versatile.
All of this is about what you'd expect for your typical match-3 arcade game, but where the physics come in is where Popping Ghosts adds a bit of extra challenge. The ghosts fall and roll like actual balls around the screen, and with some stages incorporating water, physical obstacles, or even a continual waterfall of ghosts, making matches is harder than in a game where everything is stationary. The physics wind up working both for and against the game, since they provide a lot of interesting challenge and variety, but waiting for ghosts to settle and connect feels fiddly, especially since those connections can be broken by being jostled just a hair too far apart. Survival mode lets you play as long as you can last, and Zen mode allows you to play any level you've already unlocked without that pesky timer. Though you can play the entire game without it, if you connect through Facebook (thankfully there are no notifications or ads or ask for any payment whatsoever) you can participate in online high-score rankings.
All of this makes for a match-3 game more chaotic than most, and yet if you like a little action, it works. Who knew combining a ball pit with ghost busting was a thing? It's a colourful, cheeky little game that combines simple gameplay with just enough new mechanics introduced throughout to keep you on your toes without demanding a lot in return. It doesn't exactly do anything new, but it's the sort of casually engaging "one more level" arcade game that will fill up a break, the time between emails, or, uh, when you're supposed to be writing reviews. Its physics will make it an acquired taste for some, but Popping Ghosts is still a vibrant and addictive little arcade game that's a great fit for spare time.