If you're like me, you had no idea just what a "squishy tank" was until Natsume announced the DS puzzler of the same name last year. When the review copy finally arrived this past weekend, I was exposed to the wackiness of these little guys, their propensity to get blown up at inopportune times, and their amusing and impossibly cute storylines involving same—and now I can say I know.

These guys, whose adventures you can catch up on over at livedoor Net Anime (even if you don't speak the language, which I don't, they're pretty funny) are the backdrop to some puzzle action that turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise.

Since I became a DS aficionado at launch in 2004, I've been honing my stylus skills to ninja-like perfection. As a result, the kind of DS game that tends to enthrall me the most is the type that requires tapping all over the screen in a seemingly mad, yet precise, frenzy. Unlike so many other, less-active puzzlers, Squishy Tank supports just this sort of action. You're tasked with tapping like-colored groups of three or more connected blocks, which then disappear and make room for more. In Easy mode, I could do this all day long without breaking a sweat, but in Hard—my preferred level of play—I found out that the best way to play is to try to tap a little more smartly, setting myself up for as many large groups as I could get together, since they appeared to be more aggressive at refilling the Zoo-Keeper-like timer bar. Chaining block group clears together quickly cranks up your chain counter and, by extension, points—three-digit chains turned out to be pretty common in my games.

This particular setup is exciting in short bursts, but doesn't work quite as well for the long haul—particularly the substantially long hauls required to work your way through all four episodes in Story Mode, which is rather a shame because the animations and writing therein are pretty funny. Each episode consists of 20 rounds, each round requires you to clear a certain number of each kind of block, and you'll get a bit more story every time you clear four rounds, occasionally also unlocking one of a handful of minigames revolving around blowing up as many of the cute little guys as you can. The number of blocks to clear ramps up pretty high and fast, making the first four rounds pass by quickly and the final four feel interminable. Thankfully, provided you don't turn your DS off, you can continue on the round you last perished at, so don't feel like you have to go to Easy mode just to stave off failure requiring a complete re-run at the episode.

Much more to my tastes—and this was sort of a surprise to me, since typically I hate this mode in other puzzle games—was Quest Mode. Objectives that would normally drive me insane in other puzzlers such as "clear 50 more of color x than color y" were rather fun in Squishy Tank. Each quest that I have cleared thus far unlocked a costume for the game's silly Collection mode, which lets you poke at a tank with your stylus until you've irritated him to critically cute levels. Survival and Time Attack round out the mode selection, the latter being my favorite of the two.

All-in-all, Squishy Tank is a nice little package, priced decently at its MSRP of $20. Though not particularly cerebral (some quests aside), the fast tapping action is engaging. The core game doesn't lend itself too well to long stretches of play, but for quicker sessions it feels pretty good. The antics of the ridiculously adorable tanks will likely bring a smile to your face. It may not live at the top of the DS puzzle pantheon, but it's still fun.