"If you’re of the opinion that RPGs have become stale, do yourself a favor and check out Puzzle Quest for the Nintendo DS. Thematically similar to classic sword-and-sorcery role-playing games, Puzzle Quest casts you in the role of saving an Arthurian land from an overwhelming dark presence. But when’s the last time you saved the world with a game of Bejeweled? With its unprecedented mixture of stat-building and puzzling, Puzzle Quest becomes a great game whose originality and general weirdness wi..."
If you’re of the opinion that RPGs have become stale, do yourself a favor and check out Puzzle Quest for the Nintendo DS. Thematically similar to classic sword-and-sorcery role-playing games, Puzzle Quest casts you in the role of saving an Arthurian land from an overwhelming dark presence. But when’s the last time you saved the world with a game of Bejeweled? With its unprecedented mixture of stat-building and puzzling, Puzzle Quest becomes a great game whose originality and general weirdness will get you hooked for hours on end.
Starting out in Puzzle Quest is as simple as picking a character class. After selecting the Druid, Knight, Warrior, or Wizard, you’ll be able to adjust the look of your avatar a little, and then you’re sent out to the world of Etheria. The main quest consists of an ancient period of invasion by Undead forces, although there are dozens upon dozens of optional quests that essentially dash the context in favor of good old fashioned sword-and-sorcery. Quests typically involve an introductory conversation, a little moving around a world map, and quick congratulations from the quest giver as a bookend.
Of course, no matter what the quest, it all boils down to what’s essentially Bejeweled. As you encounter enemies on the world map or as part of a quest, you’ll be transported to an eight-by-eight grid full of colored pieces. Just like the addictive puzzle game you know and love, you’ll need to swap pieces to match up three of a kind, eliminating those pieces from the grid. There’s a bit more to it than that though; the colored jewels on the grid represent different types of mana that you’ll need for casting spells. So you’ll need to strategically clear different types of jewels to use abilities that will turn the tide of battle in your favor. In Puzzle Quest, spells and abilities affect the board instead of your enemy; ‘Thrust,’ for example, allows you to eliminate one piece from the grid to set up for a huge chain; ‘Divine Right’ will clear purple stars of experience points completely off the map and toward your next level up.
The big twist is that you and your opponent share the same grid. So if you’re not careful, you could inadvertently set up a large chain of skulls for your enemy to link together, which is how damage is dealt in Puzzle Quest. As you could imagine, the key to succeeding lies in finding the right balance between charging up mana and then using your skills to set up huge damage chains to deplete the HP of your enemy. Of course, you’ll also need to take a look at your enemy’s skills and try and block off his advances of collecting mana and doing you harm. Meanwhile, your character creation options basically affect the potency of some of your options available in battle. So Wizards can collect mana quicker and will have more spells at their disposal, while Warriors deal more ‘direct’ damage with skulls.
The combat works and feels great, in large part due to its unique design. Puzzle Quest manages to take the rock-solid Bejeweled template and make it even more addictive through a persistent role-playing atmosphere. As you lock puzzle-pieces with dozens of enemies, you’ll earn gold and experience points to advance your character. When you level up, you can assign skill points to make certain types of mana more potent, increase your maximum hit points, make yourself stronger, and so on. You’ll also be able to purchase or forge your own unique weapons and armor to help you in battle. The only real problem with Puzzle Quest on the DS is that the screen feels too cramped, and you’ll occasionally swap pieces unintentionally on account of the small screen.
Apart from its gameplay, Puzzle Quest makes no concessions and is quite credible as an RPG, especially in its scriptwriting. Although the story is about as generic as you can get, the dialogue isn’t too bad at all, if a little banal. The scope of the game world, even though it’s presented via a top-down world map, feels surprisingly big. Also, you’ll appreciate how different enemies can change the grid of battle in lots of different ways, adding a more complex layer to a simple puzzle template.
Puzzle Quest may not take full advantage of the DS hardware – it has the look and sound of a Gameboy Advance game in most respects – but its addictive gameplay shines through regardless. It also feels pretty good to play with a touch screen and stylus, despite a couple fumble-ups you may have with the cramped space. Puzzle Quest gives you lots of RPG trappings in the shell of Bejeweled, and if that sounds like your type of thing, the game’s lengthy quest will give you plenty of time to indulge.
Featured community review by AdamSchedler (July 03, 2007)
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