Version tested: PC
There must be an area, a gland or a neural network somewhere deep within those quivering grey meat computers in our heads which absolutely revels in the organisation of stuff into groups: a fragment of our reptilian hind-brain which is unnervingly fond of putting things into small sets, delineated by their colour and shape. What evolutionary purpose it might serve, I'm not sure, but it's the only logical explanation for the vast number of games which involve just that.
Puzzlegeddon is one of those games, and despite an over-arching metagame, that's really all it boils down to. The grid of coloured blocks which must be matched is a 6x6 affair, lumped squarely across roughly one third of a planet's hemisphere. Moving columns up or down and rows left and right, with the colours wrapping back around to reappear on the other side of the grid, allows players to align groups of five or more of the same colour before hitting the right mouse button to activate those groups. That pings them off into the ether and grabs the resources which they represent, used to fuel power-ups and defences against enemy attack.
Woah, woah, woah. Planets? Resources? Power-ups? Enemy attack? Five or more? What foul calumny is this? These are not the brightly coloured blocks which build the house of puzzle; these are fiendish interlopers from the rival realms of strategy, shooting and action! To arms! They must be repulsed, returned to the fetid lands of base-building, reloading and cover-taking from whence they came! Which we would, except that it all works rather well, actually.
Puzzlegeddon is an overtly competitive game, in which you must destroy the anthropomorphised towers which represent your enemies as they attempt to destroy yours. None of this takes place on the puzzle board, however. The resources - maximised by clearing multiple groups at once, or scoring fortunate chains - are used to launch attacks and defend against the attacks of others. This all takes place in the atmosphere of the planet, with attacks taking the form of cartoonish, stubby rockets and debilitating lightning strikes which nerf an opponent's abilities. Defences are straight power-ups, which render attacks more powerful or the board friendlier, and an anti-missile defence system.
Using them couldn't be easier - a good job considering the hectic nature of the puzzling. To launch a missile attack, right click on your enemy. Lightning strikes are a left click; defences are a left click for power-ups and a right click for missile repellents, but with your own avatar as the focus.
Each resource pool is fed by clearing tiles of a certain colour and has three levels of escalation. Red is offence, meaning missiles become increasingly powerful and harder to stop; blue means power-ups become more effective and longer lasting; yellow makes debuffs more debilitating. The two layers of green missile defence are topped by a shield which bounces attacks straight back at their originator. As more of each colour resource is accumulated, a gauge fills up underneath your island avatar, indicating at a glance what level of power-up is available.
Visually, it's very cute, and extremely polished. The tiny missiles which putt-putt their way though the atmosphere toward your animated tower are straight out of Tintin, via Worms. The planets themselves are somewhere between Mario Galaxy and LittleBigPlanet patchwork. The islands, each of which provides a unique yet mild gameplay bonus, are jollily animated, twitching with dismay and bouncing with bloodthirsty passion. There also seems to be an unhealthy relationship between the musical score and the theme-tunes for Peggle and the bouncy love-disco level of Psychonauts.
There are three modes: the completely single-player Poison Peril and multiplayer options Deathmatch and Battle Royal. There's not a lot of fresh air between them. Deathmatch and Battle Royal are essentially the same, except that Deathmatch allows you to get back into the fray by completing a mini-puzzle challenge when your shield and health are exhausted, whilst Battle Royal is a last-thing-standing game with no comeback when you're dead and gone, which can mean some lengthy waits whilst a battle is concluded if you're knocked out early.
Deathmatch's mini-challenges are reprised in the Poison Peril mode. The brightly coloured squares which seem to be every puzzle game's inalienable birthright disappear and are replaced by a grid of skulls, coffins and other macabre knick-knacks, whilst the green and thriving planets become rotten balls of poisonous filth. The idea is to clear various targets within a certain number of 'transforms' - right clicks, basically - whilst avoiding the poison cubes which cross off an extra transform each time one is activated.
Challenges are a relatively straightforward business, although not always simple. Goals include certain numbers of chains to achieve, icon sets to completely clear and special combos to transform. Completing each challenge refreshes your transforms, apart from those lost to poison, and sets a new problem. Run out of transforms and it's game over and time to post your score on the leaderboard. Compelling enough, but not where we wager players will want to linger longest.
That would be in multiplayer, in Deathmatch and Battle Royal. The AI is an excellent partner for new players to pick up the basics with, gently paced at first and offering up to five concurrent opponents to hone your skills on. After that, it all gets a bit unfair. Stepping up to hard, and to a certain extent medium, AI enemies quickly reveals some of the slightly underhand mechanics at play.
Their resources are accumulated unbearably fast, resulting in an early barrage of missiles and debuffs which a mere human brain has no hope of retaliating against. AI opponents will also pull the classic 'ganging up' manoeuvre, launching staggered attacks at suspiciously well-timed intervals to ensure that at least a few make it through your beleaguered defences. I'm no master of the art, although progress felt swift and satisfying, but I defy anyone to topple five hard bots without resorting to some kind of Cthulhu-appeasement.
That's where I hit the major obstacle to enjoyment of an otherwise quite charming game. At various times over a few days, I didn't once find any other games in progress online. Not one. For a game that's been on the market for a few months worldwide now, it's a very discouraging sign. The other problems are excusable: the overly polarised AI difficulties, the somewhat haphazard nature of the resource collection (despite the tutorial's insistence that careful combo-planning yields the best results, that a luck-and-opportunity approach worked just as well), the inability to use only part of a resource gauge when a fully powered option is overkill.
These really are minor points. The core of Puzzlegeddon remains a fun, engaging take on a classic genre with a clever twist - but played against the soulless bots, with no bragging rights or trust in equanimity, there's a limited appeal which probably won't justify the admittedly low price-tag (GBP 10.95 at Direct2Drive). Find a similarly-minded friend, however, and feel free to adjust the score according to your love of competition.
6 / 10