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There is a little phenomenon known mainly as bejewelled that over the past few years has taken the PC puzzle community by storm. Then, Zoo Keeper brought the delights of sphere matching to the GBA and later the DS. Everyone has agreed this is a classic puzzle game that can hold its own alongside Tetris and Puzzle League.
The basic game mechanic presents you with a grid of coloured orbs which you can move one space left/right up/down at a time. To avoid a penalty you need to create a matching row of three orbs of the same colour with your move.
Puzzle Quest takes this basic concept and, as its name suggests, introduces a questing or role playing element to the game. Although it does sound a little odd at first, once you have tried it you will find that it really works quite well. The role playing artefacts and character points that are awarded from winning the puzzle stages provide a great incentive to have one more game.
This is a genuinely engaging RPG and a great puzzle title all rolled into one amorphous gaming mass. The integration and the level of imagination and doeth applied to the development of both aspects means that it works very well.
Previously, the game was usually played against the clock. You would try and achieve the highest score possible in the available time. This was extended in Zoo Keeper by the introduction of quest modes that meant you needed to match a certain number of a particular colour, or achieve a particular special combination. Puzzle Quest takes these imaginative extensions that Zoo Keeper introduced and develops them a hundred fold.
For a start the majority of its play pits you against another computer controlled player. You each take it in turns to move a piece. This in itself adds a whole new dimension to the game-play as you need to think a move or two ahead to avoid gifting the other player with an easy win. Rather than battling to score points you are looking to earn manna in different colours to enable you to cast magical attacks that affect the other player and the game itself.
This is where we start to get into the other aspect of the game, the role playing (RPG). You start out by selecting your character type much like any other RPG. You are then introduced to the over-arching story around which the game exists and the mechanics of how to move around the map and accept quests and the puzzles that relate to them. This is all well and good but could easily be seen as window dressing. Where the game excels is how it combines RPG and Puzzle elements. Your actions in the puzzle element of the game affect whether you can progress through different map quests. Conversely, your actions in developing your character greatly affect the moves you can do in the puzzles. In the course of the game you are awarded experience points for your performance. You can then develop your character by spending these points on different coloured elements that related to the different coloured balls. This grants you different spells to collect up for and use in the puzzle games.
In addition to this there is a whole host of equipment that you are awarded that can be wielded to give you bonuses to different aspects of the puzzling. Wielding the right weapon when facing a particular opponent can make the difference between winning and loosing.
Furthermore, you can also acquire a stable and capture creatures that you have beaten in a particular puzzle challenge. You can then ride these different beast which again affect both your performance in the puzzles and in the over world. It doesn't end there either you can capture your beaten opponents in dungeons, lay siege to castles to win their citizens and gain their taxes.
The developers have really gone to town with all the options. And this is why it works. This is a genuinely engaging RPG and a great puzzle title all rolled into one amorphous gaming mass. The integration and the level of imagination and doeth applied to the development of both aspects means that it works very well. What will be interesting is how it is received by players from both RPG and Puzzle game camps. I would hope and expect it would be well received by both. Quite a result.
The action is controlled by the stylus. On the over-world map this means that you can point and click where you want to go, as well as using the stylus to select from the variety of popup menus. In the Puzzle can this really comes into its own as you easily move the orbs around with a simple drag of the stylus. With its more involved play, the stylus interface also enables you to easily select and identify magic spells and equipment again with just the tap of a stylus. Although this is all possible without the touch interface, it would loose something of its tactile nature, something that makes the DS such a great device for puzzle games. It will be interesting to see how the 360 version feels when it is released.
Puzzle Quest makes exactly use of the two screens. The top screen shows a whole host of stats and progress meters whilst the puzzle action continues below. Other editions of this type of game on the DS have resorted to displaying an arbitrary graphic on the top screen, or ignoring it altogether. Puzzle Quest picks up on this spare screen real-estate and puts it to good use ensuring you continue to feel like you are in a role play game even when attacking a puzzle.
Graphically, the game does everything you would expect of an RPG, with cut scenes the over-world map, different locations all looking the part. The puzzle aspect of the game has a lot of information to communicate, but does this well. There are a host of little graphical touches that make the game feel much more tactile to play. Particularly when you damage an enemy or chain a good string of orbs together, things look fantastic.
Again the sound fits the part for both the RPG and Puzzle elements. Whilst exploring the over world in either the main or side quests there is some great music to move the action along with. Once in a particular quest or puzzle the music becomes more melodic and focuses action on the task in hand. On top of this there is the various RPG battle type sounds that have been applied to the Puzzle game, which makes it feel like something a bit more than just lining up coloured orbs.
Overall, this is a game that can provide hours of fun to a whole host of different players. It should satisfy the Role Player and Puzzle head in all of us. It could also cater to a wide range of ages due to it clear simple gameplay. It all adds up to a very compelling experience, and one that shouldn't be missed.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: