Busy Gamer Review - Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

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Busy Gamer Review

Too busy to devote 12+ hours a day to your gaming habit? Here's a review that's sensitive to your needs: Short and focused on just the things that a busy gamer like you really needs to know.

Busy Gamer Review-
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

Reviewed On: Nintendo DS. Also available for PSP. Announced for Xbox Live Arcade on Xbox 360 and expected eventually for PC.

Puzzle QuestIn a Nutshell: This is not your mother's gem-matching game. You create a warrior, wizard, knight or druid and then level up your skills by winning battles enacted on a shared field of brightly colored gems, stars, skulls and coins. If you've ever played Bejeweled, it's a lot like that - only there's an opponent who is trying to mess up your game and outmatch you with the same gems. So there's a strategy component as you try to anticipate cascades and your enemy's next move. You also collect different types of mana (red, green, blue and yellow) to power spells and abilities that can level the playing field - or, in the hands of your opponent, you. You'll save up gold pieces to purchase better armor and weapons, capture enemies to learn their tricks, collect special runes to craft your own wares and build a citadel to rule over any cities you conquer. The story is a bit weak overall, but the quests are fun and the game is an instant diversion for dozens or even hundreds of hours of play - both in the main mode and impromptu battles against the computer or even a real person if you can find anyone else who actually has the game, which is available in disturbingly small quantities at retail.

Learning Curve: If you've ever played a Match-3 puzzle game, you'll feel at home in no time. The in-game tutorial walks you through all of the major game elements in the first hour or so. The main battle mode doesn't change much (though new spells and gear can breathe fresh life into it as you progress), but there are various side quests with different rules such as matching puzzles to capture enemies and mounts, a fun and often frustrating Match-3 variant used to learn new spells and other matching mini-games such as forging. Plumbing the game's depths and getting sidetracked for awhile is part of Puzzle Quest's charm, though it does steepen the learning curve slightly. Fortunately, there's an Instant Action option so you can skip all of the hoopla and just match gems against any opponent you like.

The Save Game: Puzzle Quest saves your progress after each battle and most significant interactions. This is important on the DS version, which does crash a bit - but you rarely lose much, if any, progress. (Reports suggest the PSP game may crash on occasion, too, sometimes during a battle - but I can't vouch for this.) Both portables have standby modes, so you can snap the DS shut or hit the PSP switch to sustain your game for as long as your battery has life. Keep it charged, and you should be fine.

Family Factor: While the game's RPG elements are inherently violent (you are battling monsters, after all), it's not like the gems drip blood. There's no real visual or auditory cue for the implied violence that's going on, apart from the appearance of skull gems and the minor explosions as they are consumed and do damage to you and your foe's Life Points. This is a game that small toddlers can safely observe as long as they aren't afraid of skulls or static pictures of ogres, orcs, trolls, minotaurs and other monsters.

Buy, Rent or Skip? If you're a fan of casual games and RPGs, this is a Match-3 made in heaven - buy it now! If you're new to either of these genres, give it a rental and see if you can put it down. Alas, this game is so hard to find, renting it from Gamefly will take some waiting and if you find it at retail, you should probably just pick it up. Don't worry: If for some reason you don't enjoy it, you shouldn't have too much difficulty unloading it.

The bigger decision is which version to buy. The DS and PSP versions are both buggy, though it may be easier to tolerate the DS' occasional freezes over the PSP's accidental omission of team bonuses and clunky control scheme. If you're the patient sort and don't care about portability, wait for the Xbox 360 or PC versions, which should boast online multiplayer and the best graphics and sound, plus they'll be patchable in case of any more insufferable bugs.

On a Personal Note: I downloaded the PC demo and was hooked from the start. I then set out to find a copy on the street. After badgering nearly a dozen stores almost daily for a week (and finally missing a copy that landed at an EB by just five minutes!), I finally gave up and ordered this game online. Those few local stores that did get the game only received a few copies per shipment, and many employees didn't seem to care or seemed powerless to request the game or additional copies in greater quantities.

What's most vexing is how buggy the games are. If they had been released on a patchable platform FIRST, such as the PC or Xbox Live Arcade, the developer could have worked out many of these bugs there before releasing it on the portables. It seems likely that Nintendo and Sony sought a period of exclusivity, though oddly not from each other. And then they both fumbled their opportunity by releasing buggy games in insufficient quantities. Yeah, I know, it's like the old joke about nursing home food: "The food here is horrible. And such small portions!"

Despite the potential roadblocks to enjoying this game, I find it a quite compelling to play during brief periods of downtime and even while watching shows and movies that don't require my full attention (e.g. reality TV, news, comedy). Though I'll probably consider buying it again for the PC or Xbox 360, I have to give the DS version the edge for being portable, fast-paced (due to stylus control instead of a thumbstick) and for giving you the stated benefits of having characters join your party. The PSP version looks and sounds prettier, but I'd rather have the gameplay, thanks.

Puzzle Quest is not a perfect game. Apart from all of the documented bugs, it would be nice if you could turn off hints and puzzle-blocking text that appears when you match 4 or 5 gems. Battles do get easier as you advance, though part of the appeal of puzzle games is repetition and relatively easy success. It's a great game to relieve stress and zone out for awhile. And there are unexpected twists to savor. One of the greatest joys I found was after mastering the Stun spell and using it successfully to keep my opponents from having too many opportunities to attack, I met a Fire Elemental who regularly blocked it and took my moves away from me. I had to devise a new strategy on the fly, avoiding any spells requiring red mana that he could block and swipe my turn.

I'm 30 or so hours into the main quest, and I've barely scratched the surface. And even if I do win, I'll probably trade my knight for a druid and start again from the beginning. This is a game I can see myself still playing years from now. Highly recommended, if you can find it.

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This page contains a single entry by Gamewatcher published on May 4, 2007 12:00 AM.

PlayStation Store - Gauntlet II, Super Rub a Dub and more was the previous entry in this blog.

Wii Virtual Console - Games you've never heard of, video previews is the next entry in this blog.

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