Short puzzle games have become a smash hit on the Internet, appealing to game players of all ages. Playing off the appeal of puzzle games, Infinite Interactive developed a new cross-breed game entitled Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. We say cross-breed because Puzzle Quest is anything but a simple, short puzzle game as it captures the essence of both puzzle game and role-playing genres.
Set in the Warlords universe, players take on the role of a male or female ?hero? from one of four classes: druid, knight, warrior, or wizard. Ultimately, their goal is to save the land of Etheria from the evil Lord Bane, though many ?battles? will take place along the way. Battles take the form of a ?match-three? style puzzle game where players must swap adjacent colored gems in order to match at least three of the same gems in a row with a single move. To add another level of difficulty, players will be up against a computer or human opponent and will take turns making a move with the goal of defeating them by depleting all their health points. Depending on the type of gem matched, a match might simply add gold to the player?s inventory, increase mana available in the player?s four different mana pools, or even instantly damage an opponent. Since many early opponents have more than 50 health points and the most a player can damage an opponent early on is for a pittance, battles can easily last upwards of 10 minutes. This is especially true with the PlayStation 2 version of the game whose gems are less distinct, making it difficult to spot matches right away. Make an incorrect match and the player-character takes damage. To speed things up a bit, players can choose to turn on a turn timer, but we recommend that only advanced players try using this mode. Even early on in the game, opponents can be very difficult to defeat making the game both addicting and slightly frustrating.
As a character defeats opponents, he will gain new spells and points with which the player can upgrade his skills and abilities including the potency of the spells he can cast during battles. Available spells can be both offensive and defensive, instantly damaging an opponent or draining his mana, or, in the case of defensive spells, creating a shield that blocks damage done to the character, or even exchanging one type of mana for another that might be more useful. There is a lot of strategy involved in selecting which gems to match in a battle since matching four or more will grant the player an extra turn and some gems provide mana that is more useful to the player-character where as matching another set of gems might prevent an opponent from obtaining the mana he needs.
Puzzle Quest includes three game modes including a full-blown single-player story mode, Instant Action battle mode, and multiplayer. In single-player mode, players will travel the game world and obtain quests in towns and villages in order to level-up their character, obtain new spells and abilities for use during a fight, and gather gold to purchase new equipment. There is a large world map with many areas for the player to travel to and unlock which is how players will find quest-givers, and merchants to sell them new equipment. Though a few quests are simple and include little more then delivering an item to a character in another town, most quests involve seeking out and defeating specific enemies or will at least involve battle along the way, thus delivering a nice balance of puzzle gaming and role-playing elements.
To add even more to leveling a character and purchasing equipment for use, other characters may join with players during the game to assist in battle. Another great feature of the single-player mode is the ability to create a castle. Doing so allows players to capture enemy creatures to put in their dungeon to be fought at any time or used as a mount. Having a castle also allows players to forge new weapons and lay siege on other towns.
While losing a battle is never fun, in Puzzle Quest, a loss is a trivial matter since there is no penalty for losing a battle and the game auto-saves all progress. After each battle, and at many other points during the game, Puzzle Quest saves the player?s progress so that no matter if he is defeated in battle or must stop playing for some reason, there is no need to wait for a point to manually save the game.
Instant Action mode and multiplayer are fairly similar in that they allow you to face an opponent in battle by playing only the puzzle game part of Puzzle Quest. For those players that don?t want the hassle or do not have time to go through the full single-player story, they can opt to only perform the necessary battles in Instant Action mode. Each version of the game also allows players to battle with each other, even across the Internet. The PlayStation 2 version of the game is the only version to leave out an Internet multiplayer, including multiplayer when multiple controllers are hooked up to the same console.
Puzzle Quest?s graphics and sound are a little better than the industry norm which is mainly due to its genre mixing of puzzle and role-playing. Hand-drawn sketches bring the story to live with written dialogue and a complete story to complement play. The game?s fantasy story is brought to life not only through text, but also through comic book quality sketches and character drawings. As with much art we see in games, several of the characters, specifically the female ones, show off some cleavage as their tight garments and armor stick to the form of their bodies. The graphics do suffer some when viewed on smaller screens such as the PSP and Nintendo DS and the PlayStation 2 version of the game also suffers some and seems as though there was perhaps too much content to be squashed onto the screen, though the Xbox 360 and Wii versions of the game are much better in this regard.
Keeping with the story, Puzzle Quest includes quite a few fantasy additions in its cast of characters including wizards and druids, which players may choose to use during play, along with skeletons, werewolves, zombies and other magical creatures. Spells are also present and exceedingly useful during battles. Spells only take the form of a button players push to use during their turn in battle, but are powered through the collecting of colored gems that provide players with mana. Players may also spend points to upgrade the potency of spells as they level their character and even melee focused characters can find use for magic. Since combat can be difficult, the only way to survive most battles is by collecting gems that turn into mana and using spells to defend and attack an opponent. Since all combat takes place through the use of matching colored gems, the violence level of the game is quite low and includes no blood or gore, with health point loss as the only real way the game conveys that a battle is taking place.
Bridging the gap between casual gamers and the more hardcore players, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords provides a great balance between addictive puzzle gameplay and role-playing through character development and story progression. Since the game can be played in any amount of time the player allots, it is completely possible to fit Puzzle Quest into a busy schedule and since it can be played on the go with the Nintendo DS, PSP, and even a mobile phone, there?s little excuse not to give it a try if puzzle games and RPGs are of any interest.
» By Stephan Mack, Plain Games. Published 1/7/2008 11:30:15 AM.