Puzzle Quest is a combination of two genres that I quite enjoy separately, but never expected to see together: RPGs and puzzle games. Seemed like just the thing for me and, probably for Liesl; which latter guess proved correct, as evidenced by the fact that she’s sitting on the sofa playing it as I write this.
I liked it, too. The core gameplay mechanic is based on Bejeweled, an apparently phenomenally popular puzzle game that I’ve missed out on because of my console focus. There’s a screen full of different objects; you have to swap adjacent objects to make three (or four or five) in a row or column, at which point they disappear and the objects above them shift down, with new objects appearing at the top to take their space.
You use this mechanic to battle enemies, alternating turns on the same grid. One of the kind of objects is special: if you match skulls, you damage your enemy. Also, if you get four (or five) in a row, you get an extra turn. So the basic algorithm is pretty mindless: if there are any four-in-a-rows you can create, you match those first. Otherwise, if there are any skulls to match, you match them. Otherwise, you match something else.
And the something else is where more of the fun comes in. Some of the other objects to match are kind of boring: extra gold, extra experience. But there are also four colors of spheres that you can match to build up “mana”, which you can use to cast spells. And these spells are built into the gameplay: no matter what type of character you choose, you still have access to a wide range of spells (the fighter’s spells are just more focused on doing damage than, say, the mage’s spells), and you can get access to more via other means (capturing monsters, riding a mount). My favorite spell, for example, was one that did some damage to my oppenent as well as causing it to lose a turn. I tried to always have enough mana in reserve to be able to cast it: when I saw a move that looked great except that it would set up an attack for my opponent, I cast that spell first, giving me two moves in a row.
All in all, a good puzzle game. Not Tetris, or even Bust-A-Move, but enough to keep me happy for a while. As far as the RPG elements go, though, I was pretty nonplussed at first. The plot is, to be gentle, less than compelling, and there’s no wandering around towns. Or dungeons or overworld: you just move from area to area on the world map. Which is, of course, a time-honored tradition in alternate forms of RPGs (strategy RPGs and the like, e.g. Ogre Battle or Fire Emblem), but not what really draws me to RPGs.
Still, it was fun, and once I got twenty levels or so into the game, I was pretty well absorbed. (Not as much as Liesl: I had to wake up early in the morning on weekends to get to the DS before her.) A solid gameplay mechanic, enough plot trappings to hold my interest. And they made some good choices: for one thing, if you lose a battle, you can simply fight the same battle over again. So there’s no extra state that they try to preserve, no arbitrary penalties thrown in: you start every battle with full hit points. Also, they mix up the gameplay: battles aren’t timed (by default), but you get timed battles if you level up mounts, there’s a logic puzzle mode to capture monsters, there’s an endurance mode to learn spells from captured monsters.
And then, as I got into the final series of quests, I noticed that I’d stopped leveling up once I hit level 50. And my class’s level 50 spell, together with the spell I mentioned above, made me pretty much unbeatable. By this time, I’d put enough time in the game (20 hours? 30 hours?) that I was happy to just see it to the end, without finishing off every side quest. (Liesl’s finished them all off, though, and liked them.)
Quite good game. Which fits in well on the DS, too: no reason not to play it on a portable system, and it uses the screens and stylus well. (Having said that, apparently it works just fine on the PSP, too.) Nice to see niche games like this not only getting published but apparently turning out to be surprisingly popular.
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