Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords Reader Review
Pros: RPG elements work really well; puzzle game is addictive and fun; well thought out equipment and spells; great value for money; also available on PSP.
Cons: Music becomes tiresome; occasionally frustrating
The DS is awash with both puzzle and Japanese RPG games so on first inspection the prospect of a game that is a hybrid of the two doesn�t sound too appealing. Thankfully, Puzzle Quest turns out to be both an addictive puzzler and a compelling RPG.
You start the game by selecting a character from one of four classic RPG character classes: Warrior, Wizard, Knight and Druid. Each class has the same attributes: Fire, Water, Air, & Earth (these will relate to colours on the puzzle grid); Battle, Cunning and Morale. Each character classes� spells will be different and reflect the classes� profession. Like all other RPGs, as you level up you increase your proficiency such that you either specialise or generalise your characters� abilities. Equipment can be bought from shops and earned on quests to further enhance your abilities or protect yourself in combat.
The game world is a classic Tolkien inspired domain and full of the usual clichés: the world is filled with Elvin sounding locations, dramatic landscapes, and classic middle-earth style monsters. The story revolves around your coming of age against the backdrop of an impending doom. Yup, you�ve heard it all before I�m sure.
You navigate around the world using a map that slowly expands as your explore. Each town you find has a tavern, for rumours & quests, and a shop, for equipment, weapons and armour. The game is fairly open-ended in that you can accept local quests from towns (for cash and experience) or simply follow the main quest.
Your home town, around which much of the game�s story revolves, includes your own citadel. The citadel is used to research and develop new spells, mounts, and equipment. Initially the citadel is empty, but you can purchase and build additional structures to allow various research types. Most of the early research is based on defeated+captured creatures, so your first structure you�ll build will be a dungeon to house them in.
Most of the quests require you to investigate a defined location and defeat any creatures or bosses that you discover there. The games� creature combat is fought out on the puzzle grid: an 8x8 grid of coloured balls - if you are familiar with Bejewelled then you�ll know what to expect. The aim of each puzzle grid is to build up your mana pools to reduce your opponents hit points to zero through the use of spells and direct melee attacks obtained through matching colours or symbols.
The board contains red, green, yellow, and blue balls that represent the elemental powers fire, earth, air and water. Matching 3 like colours in a row generates a small amount that element�s mana and is pooled so you can then use it in your spell casting. A bonus turn or multipliers are awarded for completing rows of 4 or more. The board also contains skulls, stars and coins. Matching skulls deals melee damage to your opponent, whilst stars and coins increase your experience and wealth.
You and your opponent take turns to swap two adjacent items (balls/skulls/stars/coins) on the grid, using the stylus, in order to make 3-in-a-row. If you can�t find a row, the game will prompt you with a potential solution after 20 seconds or so. If there is no move available the game automatically refreshes the grid and resets both combatants� mana pools to zero. If you make an illegal swap (that doesn�t make 3-in-a-row) then your turn ends.
Each combatant has an array of spells that they can perform for a small mana cost. Many of these spells require the mana for two or more elements. At lower levels both you and your opponent will have a limited set of spells to cast, but as the game progresses you can earn and research more. You can only take six of your spells into combat, so there is a welcome degree of strategy in selecting spells that will counter your enemy�s stronger attributes.
The spells themselves have a wide variety of effects, and different character classes have spells that specialise in their field. Warriors, for instance, have more spells that deal direct damage to your opponent. Whereas, Druids have many spells that effect the game grid itself, turning it in your favour. On the whole, the spells are appropriately defined and nicely balanced for each character. Occasionally you might come up against a creature that is perfectly suited to counter your strongest spells and this can sometimes be a little frustrating.
The puzzle based combat is very addictive and offers a surprising amount of strategy for such a simple game premise. For example: do you concentrate in collecting your strongest elemental colours, or try to grab your opponent�s favoured elements? Do you try to bludgeon your enemy with direct attacks, or slow them down with spells that change the grid or reduce their mana pools? There are enough variances to ensure the combat is always a battle of skill, strategy and a little luck. In defeat you still earn experience points and cash, so you can always return better equipped for the rematch.
The graphics are functional but nothing special. There are some nicely drawn 2D characters, particularly in the Anime style story, and the puzzle grid is clear enough on the little DS screen. It would have been nice to have some better effects on spell casting and perhaps a bit more variety in the backgrounds and textures.
The sound is also fairly basic and the in game music is occasionally grating on the ears. It doesn�t really effect the game too much as you can play with the sound off, if you wish.
Multi-player is supported via DS Multi-Card play (both players will require a copy of the game) where you can take your character into battle with a friend�s. The lowest level character is automatically levelled up (for that match only) to ensure a fair fight. It is a shame that the game doesn�t support DS Download play (only one player needs a card), but it is still good fun to battle it out with a game-owning friend (or wife in my case.�and she always beats me every time too!).
I can�t comment on the length of the story mode because I am still playing through it, but there is an additional �quick-game� option so you can always get a puzzle game going on the train, or in your lunch hour, after you�ve completed the main game.
The Nintendo DS has always been perfectly suited to the puzzle game genre, with its compact size and stylus user interface, and Puzzle Quest could well be the best example of a portable puzzle game yet. If you love puzzle games and want something that is addictive and rewarding to play on the move then this game should be near the top of your DS or PSP wish-list.
8 / 10