IGN Review of Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Oh, Puzzle Quest. What did we do to deserve you? When you arrived on our DS and PSP earlier this year you proved that casual and hardcore gamers can find common ground with a deep, addictive puzzle/RPG hybrid. D3 Publisher, emboldened (perhaps a little surprised?) by the game's success, quickly made plans to port the game to consoles and PC, and our wish for online play was granted.
Puzzle Quest on PC is virtually identical to the PSP and XBLA versions but with an unfortunate audio glitch. Although at $19.99 it's five dollars more than the 360 port, it's still $10 cheaper than the handheld versions.
Casual gamers have their Bejeweled, and hardcore players have their RPGs. Long have the two groups been content to remain separate and play their respective games. But the folks at D3 and developer Infinite Interactive have begun a socialization experiment that is finding gamers from both camps playing the same game. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords attempts to marry characteristics of traditional RPGs with the pick-up-and-play mechanics of a casual puzzle game -- and succeeds.
All the usual suspects of classic RPGs are here: players select a character from a roster of different classes of knights, druids, and wizards; set out on quests; slay monsters; and collect experience points. Unlike most RPGs, though, battles in Puzzle Quest are played out on the Bejeweled field. If you haven't played the PopCap game, Bejeweled is a gem-matching puzzle game where you flip two adjacent pieces at a time in order to create matching rows of three or more jewels. As you create matches, they disappear and more spill in creating new match-making opportunities. There have been many variations on this simple, addictive formula, but Puzzle Quest is the first we know of to mix in fantasy art and deep RPG mechanics.
During battles, players go head-to-head against an enemy who is playing off the same field as you. You and your opponent take turns, so your move can end up being beneficial to the enemy's or vice versa. The four different colors of gems (red, blue, yellow, green) represent different types of mana. As you clear the field and build your reserves of each type, you can spend your mana in different combinations to cast both offensive and defensive spells. If you manage to clear four jewels at once, you'll receive an additional turn. Clear five and you'll receive the extra turn and a wild card will appear that can be used as any color of mana and multiplies the amount you receive. Skulls are peppered throughout the play field, and can be used to attack your opponent when cleared. The battle will rage on until one of the side's hit points are reduced to zero. Luckily, if you lose, you retain all the experience you collected during the match -- a feature that keeps Puzzle Quest from becoming frustrating.
It wouldn't be much of an RPG if you couldn't improve your character's stats and outfit him or her with all sorts of stylish gear. Along with all the gems and skulls on the puzzlefield are gold pieces and experience stars. As you travel about the world map, each town has a shop selling weapons and armor. Some items require you to reach a certain level before use, however, which is where the experience stars come in handy. While you initially receive the same amount of mana/experience/gold as gems you clear (three to five pieces), leveling up your character's stats will result in bonuses in each of those areas.
Those are the basics of Puzzle Quest's gameplay, but as you make your way through the game you'll realize that there is a lot more depth to be explored. You can expand your hometown citadel with additions like dungeons, towers, and stables. Each expansion grants you new abilities: once you have a dungeon you can capture your enemies; once you have a stable you can train captured monsters as mounts; once you have a mage tower you can learn spells from enemies. You can lay siege to other castles and bring them into the fold of your kingdom. A siege is handled on the field of puzzle, but castles will have much greater hit points than most monsters. Defeat the castle in battle, and its citizens will begin paying their taxes directly to you.
There is quite a lot of customization available to players who choose to delve into their many options. You can only have six spells "equipped" at a time, and you'll soon find yourself with dozens to choose from. Items generally enhance a certain mana or skill, so you can pick the gear that will be most effective against a given enemy. There are also plenty of side quests that are good for leveling up your character. All of this is optional, though, and a casual player who isn't interested in micromanaging their characters stats can play through the game ignoring most of these extras.
Control is handled entirely with your mouse. Click areas on the world map to head their way. During battles you click the jewel you wish to move and then the jewel you want to swap with. Spells are cast with a simple click.
Enemies can be seen waiting to be encountered on the map, so you needn't worry about getting bogged down in random battles. Companions will join you on your Puzzle Quest and give you access to their specific skills. A princess who joins you, for instance, can charm the pants off of any knights you encounter and allow you to make a surprise attack. The NPCs generally make it easier to defeat enemies that were previously too difficult. This creates the 'Zelda effect' of encountering obstacles which you can return to once you've gotten help from another area of the map.
Players can now challenge their buddies to a Puzzle Quest match online. Setting up a game is not difficult, and there are welcome multiplayer options such as handicaps turn time limits. The biggest problem with taking your game online may be with finding an opponent. The community was pretty much a ghost town when I was looking for challengers.
Puzzle Quest experienced a few graphical hiccups on the DS, and I'm happy to report those were not ported over to the PC. However, the music experiences an unfortunate glitch where, as it cycles through tunes, the sound is jarringly cut off as it jumps to the next track. It fades nicely on the XBLA version so I'm not sure why Puzzle Quest on my PC is such a bad DJ. It's not enough to ruin the experience, of course, and the game is so long you'll likely end up turning the music off after a while anyway. The sound is midi medieval, and while it's catchy and even impressive at first, after dozens of hours spent with the game I don't need to ever hear it again. Some light voice acting has been sprinkled around the world of Etheria for good measure.
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