I’ve never been a huge fan of puzzle games. Looking back over the years, there have only been a handful I liked well enough to want to own, games like Tetris (which was a Game Boy pack-in anyway), Dr. Mario, and Mr. Driller. Aside from these few, puzzle games have just never had anything to grab my attention and keep it for longer than a few minutes of gameplay. And now here is Puzzle Quest.
A multiplatform game, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is available on PC, PSP, Nintendo DS, and Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Arcade. The core of the game is a colored gem matching game, similar to Dr. Mario, Bejeweled, and scores of other games in the genre. The playing field is full of gems of four different colors, colored stars, gold coins, and skulls. Swap two things around, and if you manage to get three or more in a line to match, they disappear, creating various effects, and all the pieces above them fall down to fill in the empty spots, with new pieces coming into play from the top of the field. This is all fairly standard for a puzzle game. Where Puzzle Quest differentiates itself is in its quest mode.
As the title implies, Puzzle Quest features a narrative. At the outset of the game, you choose your character from one of four fantasy archetype classes. There is the druid, the warrior, the knight, and the wizard. Each class comes with a different set of skills and abilities to use in the thick of puzzle battle, and each accrues new skills differently. The plot of the quest is the standard high fantasy type we all know and love, and this together with the RPG-like character growth makes this game like digital crack for fantasy/role-playing enthusiasts. There is an overarching story of a dark lord encroaching on the lands of your kingdom, and in order to drive him back you must go on a multitude of errands for your queen, and the rulers of other kingdoms around, gathering support for the effort against the dark lord. Of course this means a lot of work slaying trolls and spelunking dungeons, puzzle-battling all opposition that presents itself. The game features a richly painted world map full of the standard Middle-Earth type locales for you to venture to and fro on in the course if your quest.
The puzzle portion of the game is always played against some opponent, be they a real live player over the Internet, or a monster from the quest portion of the game. Each player has a life total which the other is trying to deplete to zero in order to win. When colored gems are matched, the player gains mana of that color, which can be used to cast a number of spells and use other combat skills to either attack your opponent with direct damage, or manipulate the game board. Matching skulls does damage to your opponent, matching gold gives you gold to spend at the cities around the world on new skills and items to help you in battle, and matching purple stars gives you experience points. After a successful battle you receive more gold and experience points, and if you have acquired enough experience, you will gain a level, which bumps up all your various statistics and often opens up new skills and magic for use in battle.
It’s a simple formula, but in execution it is genius, and it makes me wonder why no one had combined the puzzle and RPG genres like this before. Puzzle Quest offers a lengthy main game, upwards of twenty hours or more if you want to fully complete the quest and make your character the strongest they can be. The music, also, is fantastic. There are a limited number of tracks, but all are suitably grand for an epic fantasy adventure. I find myself really enjoying listening to it, even after hours and hours of playtime with the game over the past week or so. This game is a winner, folks, and should not be overlooked in the midst of all the huge releases this fall and winter.
Other things to consider: