It’s like Puzzle Quest mixed with Reversi - and more lag and load times than you can shake a stick at.
Before I delve into reviewing Capcom's Neopets Puzzle Adventure, I have to reveal a secret: I know little to nothing about Neopets. I assume that they are some sort of youth-oriented internet phenomenon; that said, I will not degrade this game because it has a license that I don't understand. I will degrade it, however, for its terrible load times, laggy gameplay, and bland presentation. Reversi (Othello), - its core inspiration - is an in-depth game filled with strategy, but that core isn’t enough to compensate for these significant flaws.
For the uninformed, Infinite Interactive's Neopets Puzzle Adventure could be considered the spiritual successor to their Puzzle Quest games. Neopets license aside, the main difference is that the game used for battles is Reversi instead of Bejeweled. You begin by choosing your very own Neopet from different species, and thereafter commence your quest to beat a bunch of enemies in Reversi and save Neopia from danger.
The main game is a series of dialogue scenes followed by Reversi fights. Occasionally you'll have to compete in other simple (but boring) mini-games ranging from mixing exotic foods to taming spell-casting Petpets (pets of Neopets) by beating them in a game of Memory. Despite these diversions, most of the game is comprised of Reversi matches of varying difficulty. These matches are where the RPG components of the game shine through with varying degrees of success.
Reversi and spells don't go together too well, even though the RPG aspects don't ruin what is already a fun strategic game. Your Neopet has three different categories that are slowly upgraded as you level up: Strength, Movement, and Defense. These correlate to different colors of gems that are responsible for using Petpet's spells that can alter the game. For example, the first Petpet that you tame has the ability to flip one of your opponent's tiles to your own color. In addition to these spells, you can also equip weapons and items that aid you in your quest. Ultimately you can still play Neopets without worrying about its RPG aspects, since they act as more of a fallback plan for when you screw up as opposed to a strategic aspect of gameplay.
Besides these unnecessary RPG elements, the other primary drawback with basic gameplay is its steep learning curve. As someone who had never played Reversi, I found Neopets’ tutorial to not be clear enough, resulting in my getting destroyed in the beginning of the game. This learning curve seems out of place in a game that is primarily intended for children. Playing Reversi using cute animals is a lot of fun once you learn how, but gaining proficiency is difficult for beginners.
What’s also difficult is dealing with Neopets’ long load times and even occasional freezing (my Wii’s disc drive also made loud noises, unlike any other title I’ve played on it). Whenever you maneuver through Neopia's overworld map or try to work your through the game's menus, there is lag to everything you do. The only time the game doesn't lag is after the ten seconds it takes to load a battle (but that’s when it occasionally freezes). What’s most disappointing about these technical issues is that they still occur despite the game’s exceedingly plain graphical presentation, which uses little more than static cartoon backgrounds and characters. Furthermore, the multiplayer - as limited as it is - also suffers tremendously from the laggy gameplay; it's a constant struggle to try to get the simple two-player Reversi to work without it being slowed to a crawl or freezing.
While the integration of RPG elements and Reversi doesn't work too well, Neopets Puzzle Adventure’s basic game is fun enough to carry players through some, but not all, of its issues. Only Neopets diehards will be able to stand its crippling load times. Nobody else will have the patience.