Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords Reader Review
When it comes to the issue of mixing together multiple gaming genres, there are normally two distinct schools of thought. On one side of the equation, youíve got your horde of staunch traditionalists swearing by the ancient doctrine of separation for the sake of avoiding unholy contamination; on the other, thereís what might as well be known as the ďCanít we all get along?Ē brigade, who fervently insist that such blending is the golden key to long-term interactive innovation.
For Puzzle Quest, Infinite Interactiveís quaint 2007 puzzle-strategy hybrid, itís the latter that holds true, at least up to a certain point. You see, although it may not innovate in the denotative sense of the term, this game undoubtedly helps assuage any doubts that merging together elements from two distinctly separate gaming fields can not only work, but work very well. Quite why it works, however, is a conundrum thatís rather difficult to solve.
The game pays host to many of the traditional nuances of the RPG genre from the very onset, allowing players to pick a hero from a four-pronged selection of Warrior, Druid, Knight and Wizard. Once thatís out of the way, itís a simple question of scrapping with the various ragamuffins scattered across kingdoms far and wide, grinding it out for experience points, levelling up and acquiring spells, abilities and items of weaponry.
And then we come to the battling itself, the very reason for which one bothers with each and every one of the aforementioned sideshows on the bill. This, my friends, is where the ďPuzzleĒ part of the titular noun phrase comes into play. Rather than brutalising your opponents with swords, axes and novelty cookware, itís up to you to vanquish your foes with the oft-overlooked combination of strategically aligned coloured tiles and skull icons. Once oneís hit points have been depleted through such meticulous application of skills accrued during those late-night infantile Connect Four sessions, the battle duly ends, with the victor moving onto to newer, more challenging colour-coordinated brawls. Simple.
What with the gathering of mana, the campy fantasy setting and the use of an unorthodox means of securing victory on the imaginary battlefield, Puzzle Quest would seem awfully reminiscent of Magic: The Gathering, complete with a story-based RPG flavour to drive it forward.
But such a comparison appears to be oddly unfair. In truth, the depth of Magicís lore and duelling mechanics far outstrips those of Puzzle Quest, offering a significantly fuller and more complex competitive experience for serious fantasy role-players. And the RPG elements? Well, letís just say that Puzzle Quest meets the basic criteria of the accepted RPG structure and formula, but does absolutely nothing more. Accessible it might be, but fleshed out and expansive it certainly isnít.
And yet, twenty-plus hours of gameplay later, itís clear that it all fits together so seamlessly. Much like the old favourites of Tetris, along with such modern-day luminaries as Peggle and Bejewelled, Puzzle Quest shines in its raw simplicity and near-unfathomable addictiveness, rendering it akin to electronically distributed cocaine. As is the mark of any successful puzzle title, Quest demonstrates an uncanny ability to hook its player in for a brief ten-minute session, only to reel said player into its grasp of compulsion for hours on end. By nature, Iím not what one might deem the quintessentially addictive video gamer, but the overriding sense of surprise and self-loathing I felt after consulting my ďHours PlayedĒ figures on Steam was as potent as any Iíve ever felt in association with the video gaming medium.
Puzzle Questís unique charm is accentuated by its storyline and characters, but not in the way you might expect. Quite frankly, the gameís dialogue, characterisation and plot take an instant trip down the avenue of sheer awfulness, never to be seen again in the realm of comparative sanity. However, this isnít a bad thing; itís the very reason why the game is so endearing. Chock full of gut-wrenching clichťs, a complete lack of emotional attachment and a main quest line that serves little in the way of reason or rhyme, Puzzle Quest is cut from the same cloth as the 1960s Batman television series in that its glaring stupidity provides it with a delightful sense of self-parody, thus securing its rightful place in the ďso bad itís goodĒ institution of visual storytelling.
With a full sequel and numerous expansions of the original game now on the market, the Puzzle Quest series has solidified itself as a major player in the handheld, home console and PC markets. In short, Infinite Interactive has defied the status quo and managed to scratch an itch for quirky puzzle-based competition that many games never thought they had, thereby nullifying any assertion that Hollywood-esque production values and Havok-based physics engines are essential factors in the quest to break even in an increasingly competitive market. Sometimes, all it takes is a solid idea, a vibrant, welcoming artistic style and a refusal to take oneself seriously. And letís face it; the world could do with a little less seriousness.