Puzzle Quest: Challenge of Addicts

February 5, 2008

I have to say that this is one of the most addicting games I’ve ever played. The sleep mode on my DS got some exercise with it, and my power switch got a vacation. It’s a great game to just pick up and play for either short or long periods of time, and makes excellent use of the touch screen.

Before I get into the actual review, I would like to note that there are a couple bugs in the game. For some reason, it will occasionally freeze up on me. Since the game auto-saves after every fight, and the load time is quick, it’s not a big issue, but it is aggravating and shouldn’t be even a minor problem.

Sound

As with everything else in this game, it can be either good or bad depending on how you look at it. As far as how well it suits the mood, the music is perfect, and it never gets tiring or repetitive enough to make you want to turn it off. On the other hand, it sounds very flat and uninspired, and the quality isn’t up to what I’ve come to expect from modern systems. The orchestration is fine, I suspect it was just compressed in a lousy fashion.

Graphics

On the upside, the graphics are well done for the scales that the DS requires. Every still is quite good quality. The downside, however, is that adise from the animations of sprites on the map, it’s nothing but stills. Which I could get past, especially given the number of different images, except that there is only one for each character and monster, even in conversation. It is rare to see a game that doesn’t at least have different expressions for its talking heads. What the game does have here is good, but ultimately minimalist.

Story

The story of this game is a bit surprising. It involves politics and relations between cultures, giving it a richness that too many games lack. It starts when you notice that orcs are attacking your country and taking prisoners–a strange behaviour for a race that normally kills everything in its path. This also coincides with a resurgence of undead, who haven’t bothered you for decades. You are sent out to get to the bottom of both of these events. Along the way you’ll meet a number of characters to help you, each with a different personality. There’s also a number of sidequests, that add to the depth of the story.

So, the story itself is pretty good, but not presented in the best way. Mainly, the conversations between characters seem artificial, and it’s hard to believe at times that they would flow in the ways they do. Since there isn’t really any sort of character developement, the characters seem quite two-dimensional, and this hinders the conversations, since it’s sometimes hard to understand why they would respond in the ways they do.

Gameplay

This is where the game really shines, or at least digs its claws into you so deep that it’ll never let go. If you’ve ever played any other match-3 game (Bejewelled is the classic example), you already know the basics. Match three like objects in a row to clear them from the board.

That’s about as far as the comparison goes.

Beyond simple puzzles, Puzzle Quest is an RPG, with many traditional elements of the genre mixed in. First of all, you get to pick one of four classes, each with different abilities. The gems you destroy give you either mana (to use those abilities), money, injure your opponent, or experience to level up. Money can be used to either buy new gear, upgrade your citadel, or upgrade your stats–on a side note, while point costs for different attributes vary depending on your class, gold costs as the same for all of them, so save your points for the cheap skills, and use gold to improve the others. Another key difference is that aside from capturing monsters or learning skills, you will be sharing the board with your enemy, and take turns making moves. So aside from just looking for the best gains, you will also be trying not to hand your opponent easy mana or attacks. You will also have up to seven spells at your disposal at any time (six of your own, plus mounts can each give one). And of course, your gear provides bonus effects as well, making this a much richer experience than most similar games.

Ultimately, it’s very addictive, and for that reason alone I would suggest picking it up–odds are you’ll get your money’s worth whether you intend to or not. Since the gameplay is done exclusively through the stylus, it makes great use of the unique capabilities of the system, and not a pixel of screen space–top or bottom–is ever wasted. The music and story-telling do detract from the experience a bit, but the addictive power of the gameplay wins out.

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