Review by Lagoona
"Extremely addictive Puzzle RPG crossover is addictive"
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Can you think of a mix of two game genres that would not work out? Well, I sure thought I could so easily. To be honest, I still think I could think of one or two, but I sure had to revise my opinion for one specific case. Namely for a mix of the puzzle genre with the role playing one, because this is exactly what Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords does. And Infinite Interactive and D3 did a very good job developing and publishing this game (in 2007).
The core of the game is the puzzle part
Embedded in a nice, almost old-school role playing game (RPG) is the core part of the game, the puzzle part, as every battle is fought in a puzzle duel. If you've ever played the classic game Bejeweled by PopCap (I think), you'll immediately feel familiar; if not, here are the basics. The playing field is 8 x 8 squares wide, and each square is filled by a jewel. These jewels have different colors. You as the player can now swap two jewels on horizontally or vertically adjacent squares with the aim to arrange rows of three or more of the same type of jewel. The move is only legal if indeed such a row is formed. These short rows then disappear and the empty squares get filled by the jewels above them falling down, while the top squares get filled by new ones previously invisible. Thus it is possible to produce combos of two or more rows disappearing one after the other. If no valid move is possible anymore, the whole play field is renewed. Puzzle Quest adds more to it, but I'll get to that shortly.
A pretty generic RPG story...
In the beginning of the game you choose your hero out of four possible classes. Depending on the class you'll learn a different set of spells and skills with increasing experience and level. The hero, becoming a knight of the Bartonian kingdom and serving his queen, will then embark on an exciting journey filled with missions, battles, traps and other fun. When you move the small sprite from place to place on the overworld map, he will - on his way to uncover and banish the great evil - discover atrocities, save people and make friends as well as enemies. All in all, the story is rather generic and advances at an acceptable rate, but still with a few slow parts. It often more serves as a reason for battles than as an element carrying the game, but it also provides some interesting and even funny moments.
There's more to the puzzles than what first meets the eye: the RPG influence
The truly brilliant part of the game is what was done to tweak the already excellent puzzle game play. The jewels come in four different colors, each attributed to one kind of mana. Then there are gold ('money jewels') and purple experience stars ('EXP jewels'). Each jewel that is destroyed by your actions is added to your resources. So if you make a row of three greens, you gain three points of green mana; or if you align four purple stars you gain four extra points worth of experience points. Additionally, there are skulls. Each destroyed skull deals one point of damage to your opponent, glowing skulls even deal more and destroy the surrounding jewels with them.
Damage, what? Yup damage. That's basically how a battle is decided. You as well as your opponent have a certain amount of hit points (HP). If your HP gets reduced to zero - you lose, but don't worry, you can always try again. If you manage to reduce your opponent's HP to zero - you win. Normally, you and your opponent alternately make moves, collecting mana or dealing damage. However, if you manage to create a row of four or more during your turn, you get another free move. This can prolong a turn considerably, given you manage to align fours many times. And it makes planning ahead more important.
You may wonder what you need all the mana for. Well, this leads to the most fun aspect of the tweaked game play: Each class, character, enemy or whoever participates in a puzzle duel has a set of different spells or skills of which he can choose a maximum of 6 to take into battle. These include (but are not limited to) inflicting direct damage to the enemy, reducing the enemy's mana, destroying jewels on the field or restoring HP. And each of these spells uses up a certain amount of mana, be it of one color or even of multiple (up to all four) colors. Normally, the better a spell, the more expensive it gets. So this is where also some strategic planning is needed: Heal yourself or reduce the opponent's mana stock? Do some direct damage or build up more mana for better spells, even at the risk of losing all mana when the play field is renewed? Depending on what spells you rely on, especially the latter question will pop up often.
Leveling up and raising stats? Puzzling...
For each mission completed and each battle won, also a little for a lost one, you gain experience and money. Build up enough EXP and you will level up. At each level up you obtain a certain amount of points that you can distribute freely to your attributes. This in turn will affect your stats in battle: increase the maximum amount of a mana color you can hold, increase the mana points you get per destroyed jewel, increase damage dealt or increase HP, etc. Distribute wisely so your strengths will be well supported. Leveling up will also grant you access to new spells.
Money in the game is used to... surprise, surprise... buy things. Most cities on the overworld map have a shop where you can buy equipment. Weapons, armor and accessories all grant their individual bonus such as e.g. an increase in mastery of a certain element color, resistance against certain spells or recover HP. Money is also used to build certain facilities in your citadel and to buy stat increases. For that last point it is a good thing that money is not that easy to amass, especially early in the game.
Sounds and feels good, but could you get me the magnifying glass, please?
The graphical presentation of the game is well functional but pretty basic. Maybe aside from a few nicely drawn characters and screens, pretty much everything looks like it comes directly from a Playstation 1 game. The overworld map is not very detailed and there are no rendered graphics or movies. Also the few story bits are all presented in text form, either with some static backgrounds or in the form of dialogues between characters. And this brings me to the one thing in the game that I really find unacceptable: why the heck is all text written in such a small font?!?! If you don't play on a gigantic TV screen, you almost need a magnifying glass to be able to read any dialogue blurb, spell or equipment description. Or is it just me growing old? No - not yet.
Anyway, at least the playing field during the puzzle fights is big. Actually, the whole screen is very well organized and arranged: the jewels are bright and colorful in front of a black background and spells, equipment and other info can be accessed on the sides. Together with this goes a nice musical score, both on the overworld and during fights. Even though it's mostly the same, it does a very good job at remaining in the background and keeping an atmosphere without growing tiresome and getting on one's nerves. On top of that, there's a set of crystal clear and well suiting sound effects that really add to the game. That's a heroic effort!
A quick note on the controls of the game. They are kept simple and that's a good thing. The menus are easy to navigate, commands are easy to perform. In short, nothing to complain about. And the auto-save feature after each battle is handy as well.
Don't hate the game even if it sometimes seems to hate you!
Puzzle Quest offers several difficulty settings. The easiest one almost results in a cake walk through the game, e.g. the artificial intelligence, aka your opponent, often misses apparent opportunities for extra turns. On the other hand, I don't suggest going for the hard setting when playing for the first time, either, except if you're a masochist. Already in the normal difficulty setting you'll experience plenty of frustrating moments where your opponent always seems to just get the right new jewels to drop in place. Often you can then only sit there and watch your HP dwindle away without a real chance to win. Nevertheless, thanks to the fact that battles rarely last long and that one can always re-try a fight, the frustration most of the time turns into motivation to win anyway. My own personal exception of this was the final boss of the game - I gave up after about 20 tries... only to try again the next day and beat him after another 10 tries or so. Well, that actually confirms my previous statement... umh... take it as you will.
Even after you beat the game you will want to play again
The long time motivation or replayability of Puzzle Quest is incredibly high. It combines that of a good puzzle game, which can be played almost infinitely often, with a large quantity of sidequests and optional stuff known from many RPGs. Once you build up your citadel you can besiege other cities in order to get more money, you can try to forge new items using runes you collect, you can capture foes and mounts and learn new spells from them.
Even once you beat the final boss and thus the game, you can still roam the land and do more stuff, though there's not much point to it anymore. And, which is much more interesting, you can of course restart and try out one of the other available classes, as each class will require a bit different handling. Add to that the 2-player option: you can play against a friend. While there's no story to that, it's still good fun to be had with a friend.
Overall, a very addictive puzzle RPG mix with a strong focus on single player action
Summing up, I can only congratulate the developers for a work I wouldn't have thought possible: the combination of role playing elements with the strong puzzle core is well thought through and works perfectly - as such it offers countless hours of addictive game play. The music and the excellent sound effects support the game and even the sometimes sub-par graphical presentation don't lessen the fun. To those wondering if they should buy or rent, I can only say the following: You can try just renting it, but if you have the slightest liking for puzzles and RPGs, you'll want it for yourself. Just hold back from stealing it, be a good person and buy it. However, if you have the choice between the Playstation 2 version, the Wii version, possibly the X360 and PC version, the PSP and the DS version, go for one of the portable ones. Preferably even the DS one, as the PSP one apparently has a bit more glitches. The game is good to play on the go and text is more easily readable. However, the non-portable versions at least are glitch-free, as far as I know.
Looking forward to Galactrix!
Final score: 83/100 - which is rounded down for GameFAQs to 8/10.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 11/05/08
Game Release: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (EU, 11/30/07)
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