As one of the oldest and most venerated genres, puzzle games would appear on the surface to have the greatest potential for stagnation. However, every time it appears we’ve moved on, a new craze shows up to reinvigorate our interest in bite-sized brain benders. From classics, like Tetris to Bejeweled, to the recent crazes of Peggle and Puzzle Quest, the genre continually demonstrates its staying power.
Since the explosion of the casual market, more and more developers are hoping to capitalize on the recent resurgence in the popularity of the genre. With its recent release of Puzzlegeddon on XBLA, developer Pieces Interactive brings some new ideas to the table in the hopes of becoming the next link in the great chain of successful puzzle games.
Does this game live up to its name? Follow me over the jump to discover if playing Puzzlegeddon results in the annihilation of the world in a fiery detonation of multi-colored blocks!
Puzzlegeddon‘s core gameplay is a fusion of puzzle game matching and light real-time strategy elements. As the most recent successful innovation in the genre, it seems only logical to draw the instant comparison between Puzzlegeddon and 2007′s Puzzle Quest.
Puzzle Quest was widely praised for mashing together puzzle-style matching with RPG progression to keep players engaged and returning to the gameplay. However, outside of the fact that there are a few similarities and shared gameplay elements, Puzzlegeddon is at its heart a very different type of puzzle game. Puzzlegeddon eschews the Bejeweled convention of match-3 gameplay that was embraced by Puzzle Quest in several important ways.
Puzzlegeddon‘s matching gameplay takes place on a 6 x 6 grid, where players must match at least five of the same colored block. These blocks do not need to be connected in vertical or horizontal lines, although the game does give a bonus for matching an entire row or column of the same color.
Rather than matching by swapping two tiles, the player moves an entire row or column in order to create suitable combinations. Think of it as a two dimensional Rubik’s Cube. Once the arrangement is satisfactory to the player, they trigger the clearing of all properly matched blocks with a button press.
Additionally, each player is tasked with making matches on their own grid in real time. With no interaction on the same grid, the focus shifts away from from a turn-based strategic affair where your opponents’ potential tile shifts must be meticulously considered into a race to make matches as quickly as possible.
This is one of the things that really sets Puzzlegeddon apart from its predecessors; the pacing of the game creates a sense of urgency and competition that is quite entertaining. I was vaguely reminded of games like Super Bust-a-Move while playing.
Despite the intrinsic differences, there are some definite parallels with Puzzle Quest that bear mentioning. In both games, the matching is only the first layer of the gameplay, where the matching serves to fill up four colored meters. The meters must be filled in order to activate different abilities that form the strategic layer of the action. The further the meter is filled, the more effective the triggered ability becomes.
Puzzlegeddon places the player on an island against one or more opponents on the outside of the puzzle grid. Players use the color-fueled abilities to destroy their opponents. Red matches fuel attack abilities, green matches are for defense, blue matches provide boost abilities, and yellow matches can help trigger abilities that disrupt your opponents. The fact that these abilities are activated and countered in real time provide a large degree of strategic depth and a wide variety of gameplay styles.
Players can compete against multiple players and/or bots in three main modes. There is a Timed Deathmatch where you try to do as much damage to your opponents as possible to score points, and a Battle Royale mode where all players play until only one remains. A third mode, Poison Peril, focuses more on the puzzle mechanics by tasking players with creating specific block configurations with a limited number of moves.
Puzzlegeddon allows for a great degree of player control over the variables in a match. Options for everything from number of players and length of game to damage per attack and meter filled per match give a satisfying level of variety in the types of games that can be created. This allows for both quick attack intensive affairs or drawn-out strategic battles. I’m a huge proponent of giving the player options to configure their own experience.
The multiplayer aspect includes an extremely clever component — even if you are destroyed early on in a match, you are given a series of matching tasks to complete while the other players continue battling. Complete enough, and you can even rejoin the action. This is an ingenious way of keeping less skilled players interested in the experience rather than ragequitting after being eliminated.
With so much going for it, Puzzlegeddon still suffers from some major concerns. Prinicpal of these concerns for me was the learning curve. Mastering the use of each of the abilities and their use in real time is not a simple affair. This may be frustrating for some players who see the clean but cartoonish graphics and go in expecting a more accessible experience.
Puzzlegeddon does provide a tutorial mode which covers each of the pertinent abilities and the general game mechanics, but it doesn’t provide any insight into how to utilize them meaningfully in the context of competitive gameplay. For me, this was rather like being told where the safety and trigger on my rifle were just before being pushed out of a plane behind enemy lines. Getting to the rewarding fun of Puzzlegeddon can require a hefty time investment.
Additionally, playing against bots is a frustrating affair, since their execution of both the matching and strategy aspects of the game are difficult to overcome even on the easy setting without extensive play experience. From all indications, the real time strategy elements and swift pacing of the game are intended for multiplayer gaming.
Sadly, multiplayer is the one portion of the Puzzlegeddon experience which is the most lacking. This isn’t due to any design flaw or gameplay deficiency – there simply is no-one on Xbox Live playing the game. I made three separate attempts to find a multiplayer match to join (both casual and ranked), and was unsuccessful each time. It was extremely frustrating to have a game with such an interesting twist on competitive puzzle gameplay to be stymied by lack of human competition.
Overall, I was very impressed by the originality, strategic depth, and the exciting pacing (for a puzzle game) present in Puzzlegeddon. There’s a lot to chew on here for both strategy fans and hardcore puzzler addicts alike. If you are a strategy and puzzler fan, and have friends who share your passion, I would highly recommend the experience.
It’s truly a shame that the few flaws the game has impact the experience so deeply. A fleshed out single-player mode would have gone a long way to making this a puzzler in the company of its successful forebears. Just like Fat Princess on the PS3, this title shows that a niche multiplayer game, no matter how deep, will have difficulty without an extensive player base or a strong single-player mode to compensate.
Clean but unimpressive graphics get the job done with little ado.
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Fast and furious puzzling action combined with an added layer of real-time strategic gameplay makes for a welcome new addition to the puzzler-hybrid category. The learning curve is steep, however.
Much like the graphics, the sound is sharp and well suited for the gameplay while being extremely generic.
The lack of a strong multiplayer community for the game on XBL is its Achilles' heel. Once you have put in the time to master the basic attacks and counters, the bots cease to be fun to play against.
Highly recommended for those with other puzzle-game fans on their friend lists. Takes some successful and welcome risks by adding light real-time strategy elements into the puzzle genre, but its ultimately hamstrung by a niche-sized user base.