Pros: It's the puzzler High Roller with strategic depth
Cons: Luck is too big a factor
The Bottom Line: I enjoy it strictly as a puzzle and strategy game and still play it. But don't expect anything mind-blowing. Certainly don't expect victory.
I love puzzle games. I love RPGs too. So when I learned there was an RPG which featured battles in the form of puzzles available for the Nintendo DS, my first thought was: Role-playing and puzzle? How could I lose?
I bought Puzzle Quest and my question was promptly answered. Whether or not you'll enjoy Puzzle Quest depends a lot on the ratio of puzzler elements to role-playing elements. Unfortunately, in Puzzle Quest, the part RPG classification can only barely be considered such. Puzzle Quest feels more like D3 Publisher, its publisher, was trying to create a puzzle game and decided to throw in a few RPG elements at the last second to expand its audience. It's entirely possible that a puzzler nut who doesn't like RPGs would love the RPG take on puzzle games, but an RPG geek who's not keen on puzzlers would quickly return to his local Gamestop and demand a refund.
Yes, there are level-ups and experience points and new weapons and learned magic. All of them come into play during combat sequences. But RPGs are known, more than anything, for their long, epic, unfolding stories and plotlines. One of the great pleasures of playing a good RPG is watching the characters develop both physically and emotionally right before your very eyes. A good RPG can feature an angry introvert as the lead character who learns to be a headstrong leader, a bad guy who changes sides after the head baddie crosses the moral event horizon, or a rogue with a code of honor who joins the good guys to find vengeance for a wrong and learns what it means to fight for a higher cause. Puzzle Quest has very bland, poorly written characters. While virtually every RPG character these days is a cliche, they at least differ in the way they are cliches. Puzzle Quest's crime is that it doesn't care to give its characters any personality. They exist pretty much just for the sake of existing.
Puzzle Quest also robs us of a lot of the small pleasures of RPGs: Character customization beyond that of weapons and items, wandering around towns talking to people, and searching for hidden areas of the world map. D3 Publisher really might as well have not bothered with the RPG elements. Between the blandness of the story (undead invaders overrunning the countryside) and the entirely menu-driven game interface, the dialogue scenes - even the most plot-driven ones - feel like they're just getting in the way.
My father owns a game called High Roller on his computer. The object of that game is to match colored dice with each other so three in a row are placed next to each other. It's a case of simple but addictive. Puzzle Quest is basically High Roller with an added dimension of strategy. That added dimension comes in various forms. Some of it comes from advantages given to your character by companions or weapons and items, some is given to opponents based on their armor or even their rank, some is based on the spells or abilities carried by every friend or foe. The dice in Puzzle Quest come in various forms; four colors of mana, skulls, gold, and experience. Most of the blocks are mana, which you can accumulate to use your abilities in battle. You actually hurt your opponent whenever you line up three or more skulls in a row.
Can you spot the flaw in that design plan? If you said "three skulls equal a whole zombie which would appear and attack you" I dig your style, but you're still wrong. No, the flaw is that chances to attack your foe rely on more luck than strategy. Attack opportunities depend almost entirely on whose turn it is when one crops up. If you miss one, you're stuck until the next one crops up. YOU CANNOT ATTACK WHENEVER YOU FEEL LIKE IT. What's more, move options tend to vary depending on the variety on blocks onscreen. Nothing sucks like the only move on the board being one which places the computer in the position necessary to attack. Learning to use your array of spells and abilities at just the right time is critical to your success. If you can't do it, don't expect to make it very far.
You have to understand a fact about video games: If there's no set pattern, the computer will always have the advantage. In Puzzle Quest, that statement stands more true than any other. The computer is not averse to seemingly rubbing this fact in your face. While the lowest skill setting can keep things good and competitive, any higher level can be very disheartening as you helplessly watch the computer set up nasty strings of attacks which are capable of crippling you while knocking your health so far down that continuing the fight isn't worth the effort.
A plus is that if you can figure out how to not get your hide handed to you every time you tangle against the computer, the game opens up a number of options which allows you to build an empire, capture enemies, and build a citadel. This is one of the game's redeeming values because it can provide reasons to keep going back when you get stuck. And for those who don't like the the idea of having their puzzle solving interrupted by poorly written cutscenes, there is also an option to go straight to fights from the opening menu screen. This is excellent not only because it can turn a half-witted hybrid into a pure puzzler, but because the items, experience, and gold earned in the straight fight mode transfer into the story mode. If you want cool equipment for the straight fight mode, however, you still have to endure the story.
There's nothing to write about graphics and sounds. The graphics are mostly the shapes and colors you see on the puzzle screens, and the character designs completely lack inspiration, and the music is terrible all across the board. Control is entirely done by the stylus. One thing that bothers me is that the screen can be selectively sensitive. When you touch an icon, you should be as centered on it as possible. If you're too close to the icon's side, the computer may move the adjacent icon. This can be disastrous because there's no takeback option. If you make a move you didn't want to make, you're stuck. Worse, if you make a move the computer doesn't allow, you lose your turn.
Now, I actually like this game. I like the puzzle aspect and the strategic depth; it's a deeper version of High Roller, and Puzzle Quest works if you can see it purely as that. The empire building feature and straight fight features both earn Puzzle Quest a reprive. But as you can tell from this review, Puzzle Quest is not perfect by any means, and it is in fact badly flawed in some key gameplay areas. It's very enjoyable if you keep the difficulty low and accept the house advantage. But as what it tries to be, it fails on nearly every level. Many RPGs use luck as a character statistic. Puzzle Quest shows us that basing an entire game on luck can show you the meaning of frustration.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is a unique combination of classic RPG elements and fun puzzle mechanics. Create your own character and venture off in the world, listening to rumors, taking on quests, fighting monsters, and unraveling the mysteries to be found in the world of the Warlords. Designed specifically to entertain both casual and hardcore gamers with its deep immersion, five to fifteen minute play sessions and turn-based play style, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords incorporates strategy, role-playing elements and a persistent storyline in a puzzle board setting.