Some things just go together. Like Peanut Butter & Jelly, Sonny & Cher, Siskel & Ebert (okay, not so much). Puzzle Quest brings something together in complete harmony like no other game before it. Puzzles and Role Playing Games. Sure the Zelda or Breath of Fire series have puzzles in the game, but we are talking full integration where every battle is decided in a Bejeweled-like interface. Complete with mounts, spells, and other rpg-like elements; this could be the best idea of putting things together since I tried fritos and cream cheese. (Come on, you know you are curious)
Puzzle Quest was first released on the DS and the PSP in early 2007. Things that look big on the tiny screen have to be scaled so that they fit appropriately when dealing with HD and the way the Xbox 360 operates. The colors and the objects on the screen are extremely colorful and vibrant. It’s not mind blowing but it is certainly adequate and you will be able to navigate the menus with ease. Unless you are trying to read the text on the screen. For some reason, the text is very small and difficult to read. Perhaps I’m getting old but I found myself slowing down to read the text. This wasn’t due to complexity or wanting to be careful to not miss a clue. Keep in mind, I also operate on a 42″ HD Tv. If it is small for me, I cringe to worry about how small it might be for those will smaller sets (HD or not). The graphics look very good, however this one little attention to detail should have been taken care of in the testing stage.
I have said it once, I’ve said it a million times; I appreciate the dolby digital 5.1 sound but why in puzzle games (even when combined with rpgs) do we have to have the same song every beeping time? Over the course of the game you will encounter tons of monsters or creatures that stand in your way. Everytime you beat one, prepare to stick forks inside your head to keep the song from playing again. However the sound effects are pretty nice and do keep you inside the game. They are crisp and even use their surround environment to envelope the playing experience. Repetition is the only harmful thing here.
The story in Puzzle Quest is mostly irrelevant. Your character starts off as a druid, knight, warrior or wizard and is thrown into quests on a fanatical land where you have to fight off ogres, rats and even the occasional liche. The beating of monsters and completing quests will net you experience and help you increase the level of your character. However, the fighting while turn-based is not done in the traditional rpg manner. It is a puzzle field which is set up just like Bejeweled. Here you must make matches with three of a kind up to five of a kind of various types of mana, coins, experience (purple stars) and skulls which deal damage. The mana is stored in four different types representing the four elements of earth, fire, air and water. This mana is then used to cast spells which can do everything from dealing poison to healing to handing out extensive damage. The interface to do this is fairly straight forward and provides the battlefield for the cliche, a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.
The interface is very simple too, you have the battlefield (the puzzle screen) in the center. To the left is your cute little picture with your spells and hit points; to the right is your enemy with their respective stats. Matches aren’t hard to find (and the screen resets if there isn’t one) but there are times when you will miss open four matches if you aren’t careful enough. The thing that will frustrate you the most however is how often the drops go towards the computer’s favor dropping skulls and four of a kind right where they want them. The computer will often have more hit points than you and be able to deal harsher damage toward you too. This makes for a very tough time for certain fights (Dugog for example) and one of those times where Microsoft might stand to make extra money in their sales of controllers (since they are flung across the room in frustration). One thing that saves this is that any battle can be replayed near instantly. Just go up to the creature again and fight it out. It even gives you the option to back up and do something else to gain a better edge over your deadly opponent.
The main story is a long one, full of many main quests and plenty of side quests too. The game benefits from giving you as the player so many options to do just a little bit of everything. It goes far beyond fighting monsters, gaining experience and spells and advancing levels. The first thing you might notice is that you are a given a citadel to build. This lets you capture monsters, train mounts, and even create new items with runes. Capturing monsters or mounts is done on a battlefield that plays out like the puzzle mode of Bejeweled or Collapse. Then you can learn new spells from the monsters you capture which presents probably the most fun mode (and sometimes the most frustrating) where you have to collect certain levels of mana and scrolls to add the spell to your spellbook. The problem with the spellbook is that you can only hold six spells at the same time (one more can be added with a mount). The amount of spells in your spell section can workout to be a few dozen if you stay with it long enough which makes deciding which to include very difficult.
Runes are slightly different which are used to forge new powerful items (which are also plentiful) that will help you in combat. As explained before, mounts will also give you bonuses in combat as well as companions that join you from time to time in questing. There is even some decision making throughout the story that will perhaps drive the player to creating additional characters and make different choices along the way. Another interesting thing once you get high enough level is that you can capture cities which give you access to your citadel and the ability to gain more gold on a regular basis. On Xbox Live there is also a multiplayer feature where you can duel other people. However, I would not suggest trying it out before you hit level 30 with any single character. The achievements in this game are of the usual arcade type, 12 / 200 points. They are very straight forward and if you stick with the game, you should accumulate most of them. The only one that isn’t obvious is Master Craftsman where you have to forge a God-like item. A hint on this one is that you have find runes that are guarded by extremely strong Runemasters and use those to forge the item. This one could possibly even take longer than finishing off Lord Bane and reaching level 50.
Puzzle Quest is an extremely addicting puzzle and role playing game. Its 1200 points ($15) price tag will scare many off initially. (Especially when Lumines and Bankshot Billiards for the most part failed at that price point) However, this is the first game that succeeds at that price. It’s sheer amount of options from training mounts to forging new items to even capturing a city or two is staggering. It’s not the perfect game especially when considering that the graphics and sound are guaranteed to give you a trip to the optometrist and wish you were deaf. But what is near perfect is the gameplay and relentless draw to try that battle once again. If the developer is looking to support additional content (DLC), I would certainly like to see additional classes (Rogue and a Cleric or a Monk would be appreciated) as well as a package of additional quests. For those looking for a wonderful diversion that will get their mind off recent blockbusters like Halo 3 or Half Life Orange Box; this fits the bill.
Other Coverage & Reviews
- Xboxic.com(ICGamers) – Ross wonders if this game is as good as everybody says or simply another rehashed game for XBLA?