Puzzle Quest has been ported to every system and platform imaginable. From the Wii to the I-phone, chances are you can buy it right now from the comfort of your couch. Puzzle Quest is one of those games that you think you’ve seen before: The puzzle gem mechanic and the “Old Kingdom” story are both familiar items. However, under its Bejweled guise, Puzzle Quest is filled with a myriad of gameplay options.
Puzzle Quest is very welcoming, even if you’ve never played a puzzle game before. There are tutorials on everything. There are even tutorials of menus! As soon as you log-in the game, your guide will greet you and start helping you along your way. There is a brief intro video, with voice acting that sets the ominous tone for the adventure. The plot of Puzzle Quest involves a kingdom that hasn’t seen war in many years. Not one citizen even whispers of war. Your character is a vassal of the Queen of Bartonia, ruler of the biggest city in the kingdom. There are four choices when choosing your class; Warrior, Knight, Wizard, and Druid. The Warrior is more of an attack class, the Knight is a defensive class, the Wizard specializes in mana gem attacks, and the Druid is a restorative class. Everyone will find a play style that suits them with these four classes, but for complete novices, I’d suggest the Warrior.
The difficulty in Puzzle Quest is scaled, meaning that most of the enemies you encounter will be your level. If you find yourself being overwhelmed in the main game, don’t worry; just quit and select the “instant action” option. This will allow you to instantly fight enemies that are your level for easy experience and gold. Instant Action is also a great way to pass time in between breaks at work, or when you just have a few minutes to play a game. The scaled difficulty is a welcome addition for casual gamers and non-puzzle game fans. It allows anyone to become immersed in the Puzzle Quest world; not just the hardcore.
Graphically, the game looks fresh, and unique. I’m sure you’ve fought enemies named “Ogre”, and “Lich” a ton of times before in various games, but all of the character models have their own feel to them. In addition to the enemies’ character models, each of the 4 classes you can choose from have 4 possible character designs: 2 are female, and 2 are male. During combat, the gems are extremely colorful, seemingly popping out at you due to the level of detail. The interface is remarkably easy to use. Active quests are easily displayed in the top right corner of the map, and your inventory is just a button press away. The only real complaint I have, concerning graphics, is with the world map. You can’t zoom in or out, and the level of detail leaves much to be desired. It doesn’t hinder gameplay at all, it just could have looked better.
The actual puzzle element of gameplay is rather simple. The board is an 8×8 grid, with each placeholder storing a gem of some sort. There are element gems, consisting of earth, fire, air and water, and there are utility gems, consisting of skulls, gold, and experience starbursts. If you match 3 of a kind, either in a column or row, the gems will disappear and your opponent will now make a move. If you match 4 or 5 in a row, you receive an additional turn. Matching elements will grant you mana of the correct color, and matching utility gems will grant a unique effect. The two ways to damage enemies are by matching skulls, and using skills. For instance, a skill may be called “Stun”, requiring 5 red gems and 7 green ones. In addition to matching skulls, you will want to search for these two colors, and match them in order to receive the mana needed for “Stun”. If you use this ability, your enemy takes damage and misses a turn. Warriors and Knights will mostly attack through matching skulls, and Wizards and Druids will attack mostly through mana skills. Each character has a very high amount of different skills, in addition to the skills you can learn from captured enemies. When leveling up, each class will find different statistical gains. For instance, the Knight will gain lots of battle skill (skull damage), while the Wizard will gain lots of mana skills (more mana received when matching mana gems), with less health and battle skill.
In between battles, you will spend your time on the world map. Like most RPGs, there are encounters to be found while traveling, but they are not random. You can avoid some of these encounters all together, or if you receive a high level mount, run right through them. Cities and Towns will give you quests, ranging from “deliver this message”, to “slay this beast”. While some of the quests are very simple to complete, all of them have a bit of story involved, and the vast majority have cutscenes. In addition to items, experience, and gold received from quests, you can also pick up companions, who speak to you from time to time, and even speak to each other. Some of these companions are optional, encouraging you to quest more and seek them all out.
In Puzzle Quest, you can either spend a lot of time in a menu, customizing your items and abilities, or you can spend it all battling enemies and sieging towns. It’s really your choice, and with the scaled difficulty, either of these options is viable. Puzzle Quests’ customization doesn’t just stop at choosing items. At your home city, Bartonia, you can finance different structures. Almost every construct you purchase in your city will unlock a new mini-game and completely change gameplay:
- Dungeon: Allows you to utilize ride-able enemies as mounts, and capture prisoners of war. If you’ve beaten an enemy more than 3 times, the 4th time you meet in combat, you’ll be able to play a puzzle mini-game to capture him.
- Stable: Lets you to train your mounts. You must fight them, with a time limit in order to level them up.
- Mage Tower: You can learn spells from captured enemies, much like a blue mage in Final Fantasy. There is a separate mini-game for this area, too.
- Forge: Allows you to create new items, using objects called “runes”. Unlocking the forge allows you to enter battle at any time on the world map by selecting a “search for runes” option. The item creation process also has it’s own mini-game.
- Siege Workshop: Allows you to capture other cities. You fight these cities in normal combat, but their health and abilities are much stronger than a normal enemy. You receive a gold tribute from each captured city periodically.
There are a few more constructs that you can purchase in Bartonia, but they aren’t as major and mostly just increase your statistics rather than unlock new gameplay. As you can clearly see, the optional amount of gameplay in Puzzle Quest is phenomenal. There are also a few points in the game where you get to make a “right” or “wrong” decision. I won’t ruin them for you but those missions are some of the best the game has to offer. The game also has repeatable quests, which along with the “Instant Action” mode, encouraging you to never really stop playing. Puzzle Quest for the Xbox Live Arcade also has an online mode, as well as a local multiplayer option. If you and your friend don’t mind taking turns questing, you can eventually meet up whenever you like and battle each other using your saved characters.
With Puzzle Quest, you’ll always find yourself saying “one more battle!” or “I have to upgrade something first!” It is not a traditional Puzzle Game. RPG enthusiasts will love the customization, and casual gamers will love the ease of gameplay and the fast learning curve. If you enjoy Puzzle games in any way shape or form, you’ll love Puzzle Quest. At 800 MS points, it’s practically a steal.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
The graphics on the Xbox are HD and glorious. Character and enemy models do a fine job of feeling unique, and not just copied and pasted from other RPG games. The world map could have used a bit more work graphically, but it doesn’t hinder the gameplay.
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Puzzle Quest’s controls are perfect. It’s a menu based game, so there really is only one button. There are a ton of different options and events in the game to keep the gameplay fresh.
The sound effects perfectly fit and game, and there’s even a bit of voice acting. The music in Puzzle Quest ranges from quiet hymns to epic tracks that sound similar to those found on the Lord of the Rings motion picture soundtrack. Although the music is excellent however, it could have used a few more songs.
Puzzle Quest offers nearly limitless options. All of the classes play different from one another, and the main quest is extremely long. Add in secret quests, hidden items, optional characters, and an offline and online multiplayer component and you’re going to be busy for a while.
Puzzle Quest is probably the most expansive puzzle game of all time. The developers have done a fine job balancing the puzzle genre with the RPG genre’s customization aspect. This game appeals to just about everyone.