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Professor Jaymour, inventor of a new baseball-sized form of energy called the Macroton, has gone missing. As her faithful laboratory assistant, it’s up to you to find her by carefully reconstructing her experiments. The result is TubeTwist, an excellent and challenging new puzzle game by GarageGames.

To solve the mystery, you’ll need to build elaborate machines that guide Macrotons into a reactor tube, where their energy can be extracted and stored. Collect enough quantum energy, and you can travel through time—there are five eras to explore. In each era, the professor has left behind partial schematics of her experiments.

You’re given only a few parts to work with—accelerator tubes, angle tubes, spirals, anti-gravity devices, and more. A handy dictionary explains how to use the various tube pieces at your disposal. You can’t alter the existing experiments, so you’ll have to be creative about how you use the parts you have for each layout.

Piecing together your equipment is a simple matter of pointing and clicking. You can zoom in or out as needed or change position to get a better view. A control console updates you on your energy capacity, your supplies, and your progress. If you mess up and need to start over, you can press the reset button to return to square one.

You have an unlimited number of chances to figure out each puzzle. When you think you’ve got a working solution, you can activate your machine. If the Macrotons crash and burn, well, you just shut it off and start moving pieces around again. There are 80 levels in all. Once you’ve registered the game (by paying your $20), you can save your puzzle solutions and refer back to them later.

Thanks GarageGames’ vaunted Torque 3-D graphics engine, TubeTwist looks gorgeous. The Macrotons glow with ethereal shrouds of color, and the machines are colorful and detailed. Like Pangea Software’s Enigmo, TubeTwist owes a huge debt to The Incredible Machine, a classic puzzle game, and to cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who became famous for his schematics of crazy inventions by the mythical Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts.

The game recommends playing on a G4 Mac or better with Mac OS X 10.3 or later and an OpenGL-compatible graphics card with at least 64MB VRAM. However, I found it to be a bit pokey on a machine that well-exceeded those requirements (a 1.5GHz PowerBook G4 with 1GB RAM). Still, the game was very playable.

TubeTwist is safe for the whole family, though kids younger than eight will probably find it more frustrating than fun. The company says it will offer downloadable puzzles from its Web site starting March.

The bottom line

TubeTwist is a fantastic, family-friendly, puzzle game that features imaginative designs and great production values.

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