10th July 2010 - The following review contains puzzles, lots and lots of 'puzzles'. Adapted from the Nintendo DS version of the same name, Puzzle Quest 2 by Infinite Interactive, is the 3rd game to bear the name on XBOX Live Arcade. Sitting pretty next to the original/Challenge of the Warlords and Puzzle Quest: Galactixs though, is it the best? Journey with us as we go questing to find out.
The Puzzle Quest series, not to mention the plethora of similar and same variation out there, has a rather long and well received history that all started with a little game called Bejewelled. Depending on who you speak to though, Puzzle Quest will arise as both the definitive version now and the 'best'. Most people would be familiar with both the concept of “puzzling” and Questing, where the aim of the game is to align coloured gems in 3 or more rows of the same colour so that they are destroyed thus dealing damage to your enemy and otherwise casting spells. For the uninitiated, it goes something like this:
Imagine card games, like Magic the Gathering; where each card has a character with attack values/ moves/spells ect but each card is also a colour which fits into a coloured deck or 'army'. Each player takes a turn to play an attack or character and depending on the buffs or spells different damage is dealt. The coloured gems of these puzzling games are the same, falling into blue, red,yellow, green and purple. You can equip spells and attacks which require a certain number of these colours to cast; collect the colour, cast the spell, deal damage. Direct damage on the board is done through the lining up of skulls, which litter the board in between all the pretty gems.
What can not be underestimated is the depth that Infinite Interactive have gone with the game to make it a fully fleshed out role playing game and also the variations of simply mixing 5 different colours on the board. Add to this, Puzzle Quest 2 now comes with around 7 other puzzles, of similar style but using different pieces. To loot chests: play a puzzle. To unlock doors: play a puzzle. To disarm traps: play a puzzle. Doors actually have 3 different puzzles, because you can bash, pick the lock or disarm it with a spell. Each one involves lining up puzzle pieces to a set requirement, but the pieces are different and each puzzle is wholly unique. In the end, battles on the board are long and a single enemy can take easily an hour to beat, leaving you wondering if you can be bothered moving to the next. Looting gold unlocking doors and generally doing anything else is fast though and Puzzle Quest will very quickly become a time sink of moving pieces, gaining loot and levelling up your character.
Yes, if only the casinos allowed you to level characters while looting their gold. The game is almost as addictive as sitting at the pokies or playing the slots, watching for the 3 cherries and the inevitable jackpot. Characters in puzzle Quest come in four flavours, across both gender: Barbarians, Mages, Assassins and Templars. A city has been over run by Orcs and Ogres and it is your job to defend the keep, which means venturing deep beneath the town and taking on progressively harder enemy. In true role playing style, you can buy gear, weapons and shields, equip armour and buff attacks with spells and poison. To use any of it during the puzzles though, a new gauntlet piece has been introduced ( on top of the 5 colours and skulls); line up the gauntlets until you have enough to either use your weapon or increase your armour rank. Unfortunately, it is the role playing aspect of building up your character and moving around the maps, that puts a dent in this gem and for a number of reasons. The only game you can compare it to though is itself so this is why Puzzle Quest 2 is better than the original but not as good as the already released Puzzle Quest Galactix.
Puzzle Quest: Galactix is huge. As big in scope as Mass Effect 2 it literally has a sprawling map of solar systems and stars and planets within to explore with hundreds of missions. It presents as a free roaming non-linear explore through space. On the other hand, Puzzle Quest 2 is an addictive but otherwise linear grind through one dungeon level, then the next and so on, with portals back to town but not much else. Perhaps the worst feature is that your character can not free move. For some unknown reason (DS we are looking at you) you have to click (with a controller) north, south, east or west and your little avatar will move to the next area. There is no real map, save for a diagram showing all the tiles that your character can move around. Considering that in Galactix your ship followed the cursor freely around space, it becomes backward, restrictive and annoyingly slow to move like this. Other small issues are that in battle gems fall top down only in puzzle Quest 2 and you can not swap them diagonally, while the circular board of Galactix means quicker games where matches are made in any direction from any angle. For an RGP you can also not have parties, although for the longer battles, more than one character would be welcome, which again is a feature in Galactix.
The sum is that, it would appear the Galactix was made as an evolution to Puzzle Quest, fixing all the problems and taking the genre forwards, while Puzzle Quest 2 stubbornly sticks to the basics and unless we received a remake of an older game from before Galactix time, you may just want to check both out, and decide for yourself.
Graphically, Puzzle Quest has a lot going for it. Considering the almost but not quite identical nature of each game, it is only by the graphics that you can tell it is a sequel. This is the High Def remake you have been waiting for. Despite issues with moving around the board, everything looks nice with snow effects falling from the sky and well made dungeons of snow and stone. To their credit, compared to the first game, it does look like you have a large area to explore with more openness and a Diablo-eque village of people. It makes you wonder though, why make a high def port of something from the DS? This is an isometric game of larger than life pixels, when with some more money and time Infinite Interactive could have made an actually 3D free roaming village and still kept the puzzle battles.
The story and conversations are progressed with text while the overlay images of characters are nicely done. Each character and enemy has a number of different portrait paintings and just like Magic the Gathering, there is a variety of artwork for the eyes. Is it worth noting that Galactix actually has 3D environments as well as the drawn overlays. Puzzle Quest 2 doesn't suffer from being 2D though as there is enough different artwork and character designs that things stay interesting. Also during battle, for each weapon used or shield blocked, you do get some nice images of both characters, the weapons and the specific attack. The whole game flows, and despite the small avatars littering the environments you can easily tell from the silhouette which enemy is which as they generally become bigger and more dangerous.
Where Infinite Interactive seems to have put a lot of resource into, is into the amount of loot and weapons and armour available. It is all standard affair, but with only a left and right hand slot, it becomes a game of juggling the right weapon to fight the right character and counter their moves. You almost need to have multiple sets of different weapons depending on weather you are fighting a blue gem dependant monster or a green. Also considering the lone nature of the game, all the gold, resources metals and crystals you find lying around are kind of redundant as there is only so much loot one guy can carry. It adds variety, but on top of this your avatar doesn't look any different, even with different gear equipped.
The final piece of the puzzle may just come down to weather you are a space role playing person or a medieval one. If dungeon crawling is your thing, then Puzzle Quest is worth the investment, if not thenperhaps Galactix is your win.
To repeat the previous comparison about casinos, the most memorable sound you will get from the game is the one of 4 or more gems coming into lines. The sound of pulling off tricks or runs, called 'Heroic efforts' where you know that not only have you received a free turn but also scored a fat lot of gems. There are of course other sounds, and background music, which is actually contextual depending on the fight. Boss fights have different music to unlocking doors to battling regular grunts. Just like the Graphics and gameplay though, Puzzle Quest 2 leaves you wanting. Wishing 'if only they had done this' or 'tried that'. It has a lot of potential to be improved even further and has been mentioned, Puzzle Quest: Galactix kind of addresses all these issues. Even the opening theme is entirely forgettable compared to the Halo-esque hymn of Galactix.
Spell and weapon effects are unique enough, while the one new addition to the game is that people in town do, for a very small part have voices with some mumbling murmurs or grunts. Puzzle Quest never needs many sounds though while shuffling gems around a board, so keeps it simple and unobtrusive for the player.
By now, you have probably already decided which side of the gold coin you fall on. Even at the first mention of Puzzle, your mind may have turned off. No doubt, Puzzle Quest presents a unique approach to role playing. It is turn based, borrowing elements from card games, puzzles and RPGs in general. It is not for everyone. Depending on your mood, you may give up, only to find yourself hours later clawing back for just 'one more turn'. It is a good game though. It is long, with many enemy and lengthy battles. Feel free to go check out Galactix which is sitting at the higher price point of 1600MS Points. Which is odd for an older game when Puzzle Quest 2 retails at 1200 but the obvious difference have been well stated in this review. The story unfolds slowly but as you progress to higher levels, battles become easier. This is an excellent entry point to XBOX for people who usually play on their mobiles or even the DS.
Puzzle Quest 2 beats the original but is lacking in the face of its own Puzzle Quest: Galactix.. All 3 though are the jewels in the crown of so many samey puzzle, jewel based games. If you are sick of how many times the word puzzle has appeared in this review then maybe the game isn't for you, despite it's 2D appearance it certainly lends itself to an older audience with patience. As an addition there is an online mode but (not surprisingly) no one was using it enough to match up a game. Don't underestimate the power of Puzzle Quest.
AAG SCORE: 8/10
- A clear evolution of the franchise over the first puzzle quest
- Character level and looting
- Addictive simple fun that never gets boring
- Left wanting for better graphics and more advanced gameplay
- Moving the character around the maps in tedious
- No one is using online enough to play vs!
Reviewed and Written By Ian Crane