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Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (DS) artwork

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (DS) review

"As Puzzle Quest opens, the citizens of medieval fantasy land Etheria are merrily rejoicing in having gone for hundreds of years without an undead invasion, and if you don’t already know where this is going then this must be your first RPG; in which case, welcome to the genre! "

As Puzzle Quest opens, the citizens of medieval fantasy land Etheria are merrily rejoicing in having gone for hundreds of years without an undead invasion, and if you don’t already know where this is going then this must be your first RPG; in which case, welcome to the genre!

I did say “RPG”; despite its title, I consider Puzzle Quest to be equal parts puzzle, RPG and unbridled addictive fun. Oh, the core of the gameplay is certainly the Bejeweled-style routine of switching gems on a board to form rows of three or more gems of the same colour, after which they vanish and new pieces fall to occupy their place and allow the game to continue. If you’ve ever played a similar puzzle, even in Flash form on some website, then you will be instantly familiar with the way Puzzle Quest plays.

There are two main innovations to the formula, and the most noticeable one is that you control everything with the DS’s touch screen, which makes this version of the game desirable above all others, as it’s infinitely more comfortable to just tap the pieces you want with the stylus than having to move a cursor or however else it works on other platforms. I do have to complain that you have to tap one gem and then tap the one next to it for them to exchange places; gameplay would be much more fluid if you could do this with just one movement, as if sliding the piece yourself, but I found that the game rarely recognised this motion properly, or at all.

The second innovation is that puzzles are treated as battles within a roleplaying game, so it’s always your chosen hero “fighting”, say, an Orc, by matching gems. The types of gems you match are of vital importance: regular, colour-coded orbs will give you mana for spells, purple and gold units will give you experience and (get this!) gold, and finally lining up skulls will hurt your enemy, which is the ultimate objective of the entire thing.

This would all be pretty straightforward if it weren’t for the fact that the enemy and you play on the same board, so strategy plays a decisive role in your chances to win. If you miss a set of skulls, your enemy will use them in its turn. Sometimes you will want to avoid going for certain matches, because doing so would reposition pieces in a combination that would benefit your opponent. In other occasions you will have to face tough questions such as “Should I grab the blue mana in order to cast a regeneration spell, or take the experience, which I can keep after the battle ends?”.

I have now summed up more or less the basic concepts I knew about the game before ever laying my hands on it. When I did finally play my first puzzle battle to complete my first quest –indeed, my first puzzle quest- I thought that it all lived up to the idea of a puzzle game with RPG touches.

Oh, I had no idea. As I began to really get into the game, I discovered that rather than “RPG touches” this puzzle game has veritable RPG bulldozers with which it spectacularly breaks down the wall that we would have expected to divide the two genres we’re discussing.

The complexity and abundance of RPG elements ambush unsuspecting players with layers upon layers of customisation and strategy: apart from gaining experience and skills and fighting monsters, your character can capture them to learn new spells, use four different types of equipment at the same time, subdue beasts to use them as mounts and then level them up, combine items to create new pieces of equipment, have multiple allies join your party, and why not, capture every city in the game. There’s even a feeble plot advanced by text conversations to tie it all together.

It’s even more complex than it sounds; for example, equippable objects have wildly different properties. One helm may increase your fire defence, while another helm may grant you extra gold at the end of battle. A type of armour may protect you against damage, but another may return the damage you suffer to the enemy. It’s never as easy as substituting a +5 Sword for a +7 Sword.

It is true that all these different actions are carried out by essentially the same gem-matching mechanics as everything else. It is also true that that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It may just be me, but if I get the chance to lay siege to an entire feudal city full of knights via a game of Bejeweled in order to use it as a base of sorts and collect delicious taxes from it on a regular basis? Oh, I will.

Although the puzzles are for the most part difficult and will keep you on the edge of your seat, there is no penalty for losing a battle; you just get back to the overworld map and can try again whenever you want. In fact, you even get to keep all the gold and experience you earned in your failed battle. This is always an incentive to keep trying over and over until you manage to finally stumble upon the correct strategy to beat a particularly strong foe.

Puzzle Quest only gets repetitive in the same way and time as your favourite puzzle game. Tetris certainly doesn’t have a lot going for it, gameplay-wise, but does it ever get old? Puzzle Quest is very challenging, very entertaining, and addictive enough to keep me playing late at night, with bloodshot eyes and rocking back and forth, saying “Just one more! Just one more!” to people who aren’t really there. As with all puzzle games, at some point you are bound to get bored of it, but as with all puzzle games, a few weeks or maybe months later your fingers will start itching and beckoning you to grab the stylus and play a couple more rounds. Your justification will be “Just a couple more”, followed by the scared whimper of “My goodness, what have I unleashed” and the frenzied cry of “Why doesn’t my water defence protect against the poison status and the loss of three turns if I already equipped the cane I got after mixing those runes??”.

MartinG's avatar
Community review by MartinG (February 03, 2008)

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