360 XBLA Review - Puzzle Chronicles

17th May 2010 - A genre which is populated with casual, fresh and often very simple puzzle based games with one or more types of puzzles to master in order to traverse the simplistic and usually very dull and lifeless game worlds; the Puzzle RPG. Puzzle Chronicles is the latest effort in a fast growing genre which gathered great momentum and critical praise from the like of Puzzle Quest. But are the few stand out titles of the genre just one-offs, or are developers on to something here and can Puzzle Chronicles make its mark in the casual genre? Read on to find out…

The game actually has a surprisingly decent story, and one that, although very generic and simplistic, could have been made into a ‘proper’ RPG or action. You play a young tribesman whose friends and family are slaughtered and taken as slaves. You get off lucky when someone buys you from slavers and sets you free. But is your saviour really what she seems? And will anything stop you from extracting revenge on those who committed these heinous acts of violence? Embark on a land spanning quest to find out the truth and get some sweet, sweet revenge as you battle the weird and strange monsters of the land and really make a name for yourself. Sure, it all seems well and good in theory, but the game just delivers it in such a forgetful and uncaring way, you will soon only be playing for some casual playtime or just some achievements.

The actual ‘fighting’ takes form of a straight forward puzzle game. You can see your little man fighting away with his vicious sidekick in a slick animation up top of the screen, but try to keep your eyes on the actual playing field. Anyone who’s ever played a similar game will find this immediately easy to understand, and after the short tutorial, you will be matching coloured blocks like a champ in no time. Its quite easy to pick up for newcomers too, as like I said, its all about matching up same coloured blocks of different types to destroy them. Destroy a certain amount of ‘skull’ blocks and your warrior will let his opponent have it with an attack of some sort, depending on what you have equipped.

Another way to attack - which I might add is the aim of battle, as it pushes your side of the game board forward, resulting in the loss of the enemy - is to stock up on different coloured block power, which is used by your companion to unleash deadly and useful attacks or powers that can really help you in ultimate victory. Its all a little difficult to explain and may seem very complex, but once you see it for yourself and give it a quick go, you will feel like a true warrior of the blocks and want to jump into the fighting as fast as possible! It may be simple, but it’s a fun puzzle type if you’re looking for something quick and casual to play and at times can actually be very challenging, resulting in some tedious battles that only the masters could receive victory over.

Apart from fighting, the other aspects of gameplay would have to be the ‘adventuring’ side of it and the all-important Role Playing moments. As you progress through the many different stages and areas of the game, you will have access to shops and side missions which you can spend your hard-earned at and even earn more of said money, respectfully. Of course, the quests are always just fight some monsters and kill some things and there, you’re done, but they are just there to give you some extra money and experience and essentially just some more hours of gameplay. You can equip different armour types, weapons, jewels that possess neat little battle powers and more. This doesn’t really provide any kind of depth into the game that will have you staying for any longer, but while you do play, its still nice to be able to feel like you’re in control at least a little and there are a ton of different items to be unlocked and worn to give certain advantage in battle.

Puzzle Chronicles visuals take the form of simple, unchanging environments which you can move around by just pressing A on whatever area of the map you want to move to. You’re little avatar will walk there and then open a menu for you to choose what action to take - usually with no choice rather than the obvious one or two choices of ‘do something’ or ‘don’t’, just in a few more suitable words.

The graphics of the map and layout look like something that could be done on a Flash program with little skill and while being a decent style for the game type, given how good some Arcade titles are looking these days, it’s a poor show and really doesn’t give you much incentive to stay in this fictional land like a good RPG should.

But while you’re in a battle, the screen gets split into two sections. The first is a side-view of you and your enemy as you engage in fearsome combat, while the second is the game board which the puzzle is played on. Your characters are not in the same 2D,  cartoony type of graphics as the map however, and look as if animated quite well in decent 3D software. They will attack when you get sufficient puzzle points and your warrior will change appearance depending on what you have equipped on the little fellow and what weapon you choose to wield. Its still nothing to write home about, but does look alright when compared to the rest of the game.

This arcade game may not have any kind of stunning visuals, but it does manage to match up some pretty decent voice work to the comic-style cutscenes and gameplay. Of course its no Heavy Rain or Final Fantasy XIII with voice talent, but it’s a good show for an arcade game and makes watching the silly little cutscenes quite bearable. But voices aside, Puzzle Chronicles doesn’t give players of its puzzle ways any kind of exciting music other than its stock-sound soundtrack of overused and far too generic ‘classical’ adventure sounds.

Puzzle Chronicles does, despite its flaws, offer a nice selection of gameplay possibilities. You can play online in versus, in quick-battles, mini games and then the single-player campaign. Whatever your playing develops your character too, which adds a hefty amount of feeling that he is really yours and you’re taking on the world with this bulky, well-travelled warrior. This adds to the lacking RPG-feeling that the game really needs, so it’s a nice addition to see used.

If you’re really into the puzzle gameplay, you can lose yourself for hours in this game, but be warned, because you may just come across a few overly difficult battles that test your skill and frustration levels and could make you simply never go back to playing in fear of getting pissed once more. But if you like something that really gives you a run for your money and love unique yet simple puzzles, then for the price tag of 800 Microsoft Points, this XBLA title could be your golden ticket to enjoyment.

Puzzle Chronicles is what some would call a hit-and-miss title. Its inciting for its casual puzzle battles, but given its supposed to be an RPG title, it doesn’t exactly live up to what you may expect. And yes, arcade titles can be deep and intriguing, so its small price tag is no excuse. It seems like the games developers just tried too hard to make the RPG features stand out, and you will find yourself of not caring for side-quests or the story unless you really need some extra cash of experience. While that’s not what an RPG should play out like, if you can look past the games flaws, you may find yourself in a position where you will lose hours of your days playing this neat puzzle adventure game. Definitely one worth checking out to see how much the unique puzzle gameplay makes tickles your fancy, but be sure to try before you buy.

AAG SCORE: 6.2/10

+ Puzzle fights are quite enjoyable and unique
+ Heaps of character development and customisation
+ Is sufficiently long and addictive if you like its gameplay

- Visually, there is nothing to be praised
- Lackluster RPG mechanics and side-quests
- Story, while being decent, is a weak factor due to its delivery


Reviewed and Written By John Elliott