PUZZLE QUEST / D3 Publisher / Nintendo DS

Puzzle Quest is a game specifically designed for and targeted at "goal oriented" gamers with a touch of the old OC disorder. Having some tendencies in that direction myself (though in rehab from it now), I found it was powerful enough to suck me into playing long after I'd concluded that the game was actually both very mediocre and very repetitive.

It's Bejeweled, basically, but with an overlay of fantasy-RPG elements. Yon Kingdom of Wencheslas or whatever is being overrun by the undead, so you'll roll up a character and jump into the fray on the side of justice and nobility (and all of that hoohah). Fights with monsters take the form of puzzle battles; you each have HP, and the main focus is to try to line up three or more skulls in a row to do damage to your foe. Colored balls are used as "mana", which you stock to cast spells; these spells have a wide array of effects from simply damaging your foe, to leeching their mana, to healing yourself or wiping certain colors off the board (as well as all manner of other things).

Then there's the purple stars, which grant you EXP. You also get some experience for winning each battle, and for completing certain quests. Each time you level up, you can choose to upgrade one of your stats - spell types, health points, damage done in combat or initiative, as examples. Coins are also obtained during and after fights, which you use to purchase new buildings for your Citadel, which in turn open up new abilities that mostly revolve around obtaining new spells and abilities in one form or another.

There's a main storyline to follow, but it's basically forgettable fantasy claptrap. Aside from the requisite quests that develop the story, you can take on side quests for extra experience and gold. You might also find items, of which you can equp three, and these grant certain perks in battle.

The puzzle action is OK, but if you've played Bejeweled (or any other "line up the colors" game) you've seen this before. The game's fundamental hook is that you continually upgrade and grow stronger; it's basically no different than your typical level-grinding RPG and draws from the same source of appeal, the battles have just been swapped out for puzzles. Unfortunately, there's only the one type of puzzle, and that's pretty much all there is to do in this game.

Enemies don't get any smarter as you move onwards; they just get cheaper. I swear the AI plays exactly the same on the final match as it does on the first, the only difference being that it has more health points, attack power and cheap abilities that drain all your mana and allow it to take like eight turns in a row to your one. However, depending on which character class you pick, and how you upgrade, it is possible to become very broken very quickly, making the battles in the latter half of the game almost no challenge whatsoever. So you usually end up with a frequently frustrating first half of the game, and then a mundane cakewalk of a second half.

Notable to the DS version of the game is the fact that gameplay is entirely controlled by the touchscreen. While this can be more convenient than pushing a cursor around, the touch screen can be finicky about where you clicked, and making a wrong move in this game costs you 5 HP and makes you forfeit your turn. There is no option to use the D-Pad instead; you're stuck with the stylus, for better or for worse.

Ultimately, Puzzle Quest is only really worth the money if you are going to be playing against other people regularly, or if you just want a simple and fairly brainless "casual" game that you can pick up and leave off in bursts. It's the kind of game that makes for a fine time-filler on public transportation or during a long lunch break at work, but single player mode doesn't really offer enough to make it worth spending evenings at home with it - unless, of course, you're in the grips of good old OCD, but in that case you're probably playing World of Warcraft already anyway.

Videos :

Gameplay Video
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