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DS

North America

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

by Jonathan Metts - June 22, 2007, 1:48 pm PDT
Total comments: 10

9

Could it be the most addictive game ever?

Since buying Puzzle Quest for a plane ride over two weeks ago, I have not played –or done– much else. In fact, I must admit that I am now forcing myself to write this review in part to help break my addiction to this game. Not only does it haunt my mind's eye like Tetris and Minesweeper have done so many times, but the RPG elements make this puzzle game even more compelling, and the gargantuan amount of content means you can play forever without seeming to make a dent in all the missions and side-quests being offered. In short: this is a very dangerous game, and I mean that as a high compliment.

Puzzle Quest is blatantly based on the popular online puzzle game, Bejeweled. I had not actually played Bejeweled before this game, so I tried it out after investing many hours into Puzzle Quest. What I found was a mediocre and overly simple puzzle game with no personality and nothing to keep me playing for more than a few minutes. Puzzle Quest excels by solving both of those problems; the story is well written and multi-faceted, while the RPG-style character building gives you incentive to keep playing, hour after hour. But the true genius of Puzzle Quest is that it turns Bejeweled into a competitive strategy game. Every "battle" takes place against an opponent, so rather than struggle against the layout of the puzzle pieces, you are matching wits with an AI character (or another human, in multiplayer) who is manipulating the same board as you. Matching certain pieces will send attack damage to the opponent, while others build up mana reserves and still others add to your experience and coinage. You can't easily set up multi-turn combos because your opponent will take advantage of them before you can. Since there are usually several possible moves available on the board, you must learn to assign priority to certain types of matches and certain regions of the playing field. In short, Puzzle Quest transforms Bejeweled from a middling puzzle game into a brilliant strategy game.

Adding another layer of complexity is the magic system. Once you have matched enough mana gems, you have the option of casting a spell instead of making another move on the board. There are several ways to learn spells, and you'll quickly learn more than you can hold at one time, so spell acquisition and selection become important. The spells at your disposal can deal direct damage, create defensive barriers, or change gems on the board into other gem types. Over time, you'll learn that the spells you have selected will subtly change your playing style and your strategies in matching pieces. There are also dozens of items that can be equipped for stat bonuses and other effects. If you take Puzzle Quest to be a true RPG, and I can't see why not, an argument could be made that it has one of the deepest and most satisfying battle systems (the puzzles themselves) in the genre's history.

The impressive level of depth extends beyond the battle system, though. You can capture some creatures and ride them as mounts, allowing you the use of an extra spell and the ability to avoid some "random" encounters. These mounts can also be trained and leveled up for greater benefits. It is possible to capture other enemies and research their spells for your own use, although the process for doing so involves solving some extremely long and difficult puzzles. Cities throughout the enormous overworld can be conquered, after which they will pay you tribute money and offer convenient access to certain services. There are seemingly infinite side-quests, usually half a dozen or more at each location on the map, which reward you with rare items. Often you will be given a choice to keep an artifact obtained through battle or to return it to the rightful owner for experience and gold. Other sets of side-quests will result in a companion joining your party, which means stat boosts or extra damage against certain enemy types.

The number of features and distractions in the main quest is astounding, and sometimes it can feel like there is too much to do, even though the vast majority of this content is optional. For those times when you feel overwhelmed, Puzzle Quest offers "Instant Action", which throws you into a random battle without having to worry about navigating the map or anything else. The cool part is that even these battles initiated via menu will add to your experience and gold, so your character is always growing stronger. By the way, there are four character classes available at the start of the game, and the differences between their stats and spells are quite significant. It is feasible that you could be compelled to play through the game more than once to try different character types… right now, I shudder at the thought. As much as I love this game, I don't want to still be playing it in twenty years, even though I probably could be without any redundancy.

The presentation of Puzzle Quest is crude enough that it may not win over traditional RPG fans who expect heavy exploration elements and extensive storytelling. However, if there is even a tiny part of you that giggles with delight when dragons or minotaurs show up, the fantasy trappings will definitely keep your interest, even without taking themselves too seriously. Puzzle game fans should be pleasantly surprised at how the simplistic Bejeweled gameplay is twisted and enhanced to keep engaging your brain. Above all, strategy fans should particularly enjoy the many ways that Puzzle Quest makes you think about the complex interactions among your character, the opponent, and the puzzle board. Ironically, the only audience who may be lost in this adventure is the casual sector, i.e. the very people who turn off their brains for hours to play the original Bejeweled. For anyone else, I can't recommend Puzzle Quest highly enough. It's a refreshing blend of genres, perfectly suited for handheld play, and almost impossible to put down.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
7 6 8 9.5 10 9
Graphics
7

Nothing special going on here. Character portraits look nice, but enemy icons on the overworld are grainy and hard to identify. The puzzle board is presented simply, as it should be, but some cool spell animations would have been a nice touch.

Sound
6

The music is low-key and appropriate for the fantasy setting, but there aren't enough songs considering how much time will be spent listening to them. Also, one song sounds glitchy, with a subtle percussion effect easily mistaken for the music clipping out. Voice samples are hokey but rare.

Control
8

Both the puzzles/battles and overworld are controlled entirely with the stylus, and it works well all around. Sliding pieces is a bit stiff, so you may prefer tapping. Some menus are very picky about where you have to tap to make a selection, and others seem very unresponsive, but these aren't menus you'll encounter very often. Pressing a shoulder button will swap the two screen displays at any time, which is a great feature.

Gameplay
9.5

Puzzle Quest is a convergence of RPG character building, in-depth strategic battles, and a relatively simple puzzle-based combat system contained within dozens of complicating factors. It's amazing that this genre stew works at all, much less that it turns out to be so incredibly fun and addictive.

Lastability
10

Not only does the game seem to never end, but it doesn't seem to get old or tiresome, either. There's one-on-one local multiplayer, though it seems extraneous given the very challenging A.I. in the single-player campaign.

Final
9

Puzzle Quest is an excellent game packed with more content than you could ever hope to complete. Succumb to it.

Summary

Pros
  • Beats the snot out of any Final Fantasy battle system
  • Easy to learn, but incredibly deep
  • More side-missions and other optional stuff than should be legal
Cons
  • Story and overall presentation don't compare to most RPGs
  • Stubborn touch screen menus
  • Will totally wreck your social life and possibly your career
Review Page 2: Conclusion

Talkback

UltimatePartyBearJune 22, 2007

Quote

The inability to slide puzzle pieces rather than tap them is odd.

You can slide them, and I usually do, but it's often unresponsive. It's not as bad as the menu for picking which mount to train, but bad enough that sometimes it's a liability in a timed battle. I suppose it's possible that the controls are just bad enough to interpret my sliding as two taps, but I doubt that. I'm pretty sure the apparent unresponsiveness on some menus is the result of the target areas being too small. Any time I have to tap a button, icon, puzzle piece, or other widget, it's easy enough. It's only when you have to tap a line of text that it gets difficult.

Wow, you're right. It's so stiff that I couldn't ever get it to work when I first got the game, and I hadn't tried since. The trick seems to be that you have to lift up the stylus when you're over the adjacent gem to be swapped...if you go too far, nothing will happen. I definitely prefer tapping.

TMWJune 22, 2007

I'll slide by accident and get an illegal move penalty sometimes.

Thats how I figured out you could slide in the first place.

Flames_of_chaosLukasz Balicki, Staff AlumnusJune 23, 2007

Also you forgot to mention that there are some minor graphical glitches but they are very minor and cosmetic(inverting on some color of the pieces or the portrait) and my copy locked up on me once which is no big issue since the game tends to save in the background from the last battle or event. But I still agree with the 9.0

I never had a lock up. I have seen some graphical glitches, usually when I level up, but they always go away when I advance to the next screen.

Flames_of_chaosLukasz Balicki, Staff AlumnusJune 23, 2007

My copy locked up twice during the transitional segments (when the screens are black after a victory or defeat screen when it transitions to the map).

decoymanJune 24, 2007

I'm glad to see this game get some exposure, especially in the form of a very favorable review. I wholeheartedly agree with the strengths and issues Jonny raises, but have become aware of a few more weaknesses (albeit nitpicky ones).

I wish, after casting a spell, the screen didn't fill with a little burst shape and the amount of damage you had dealt OR, that there was a way to turn it off in options. It fades away too slowly, at least for the high-level mount-training (as in, when you have 3 seconds to make your move) so that you have to memorize two moves in advance if you're planning to use a spell, and make your move blind. If you don't, you're left with a blank spot in your field of play for 2 out of 3 of your precious seconds.

Secondly, the level 50 cap of your character is frustrating and artificial. If you do all the side quests, and fight a decent amount of random encounters, you're going to hit this cap easily before the end of the game, at which point the only way to raise your skill levels is in towns with money. The in-game reward for fighting enemies is thus substantially reduced. Add to this the fact that, even at level 50, some battles were still very challenging and drawn out, and the game becomes a bit frustrating. I'm at Bane, and I keep getting my butt handed to me.

Lastly, and in total nitpickiness, I think they should have added a game clock to see how long one has actually played. I know it has been many, MANY hours for me, but I would like to see exactly how much of my life it has sucked awayface-icon-small-smile.gif

But all of this is of little concern when the game is this fun, addictive and deep. It's the kind of game that helps disprove the "DS non-game strategy naysayers'" fears – this is a true gamers' game.

This game, actually, is QUITE hardcore.

The first time I fought Bane, he just barely beat me. I was at level 35 or so, playing as a Wizard. (The "Hand of Power" plus "Fireball" combo is devastating. These spells are fairly useless on their own, but together they can deal out 30-50 damage per turn.) So I've been cleaning up some side quests I ignored earlier, and I'll probably try Bane again very soon.

Question for those of you with the game: did you only cover about half of the world map by the time you got to Bane? I'm wondering if there's a second quest, or if the other playable characters take different paths to the final boss.

decoymanJune 25, 2007

My problem with Bane is that his admittedly moderate spell resistances were able to deny my spells 90% of the time I tried them. So even though I have spells that will dish out similar damage, I basically wasted a turn every time I tried to use them. Maybe I need to forge some items that can help me somehow.

P.S. – I'm playing as a knight/paladin/whatev.
P.P.S. – I only covered about half the map too.

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Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords Box Art

Genre Puzzle
Developer 1st Playable Productions
Players1 - 2

Worldwide Releases

na: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Release Mar 20, 2007
PublisherD3Publisher
RatingEveryone 10+
eu: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Release Apr 2007
PublisherD3Publisher
Rating3+
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