Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: Vicious Cycle/Infinite Interactive
Release Date: March 20, 2007
Puzzle games certainly aren't a favorite genre of mine, and I normally do not have the urge to even pick one up, but Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords certainly brings a unique twist to the genre, and I'm having trouble putting it down, rather than picking it up. Puzzle Quest doesn't appeal to just puzzle fanatics, but to RPG fans as well. The game has key elements that blend the two genres together amazingly, leaving behind the sweet aftertaste of a wonderful innovation.
You start your adventure in Puzzle Quest by choosing one of four classes, each with its own unique specialty and play style: Druid, Warrior, Wizard or Knight. Your character — whose class, name, and portrait are chosen by you — is then ready to begin the adventure.
The NDS version of Puzzle Quest utilizes the DS' dual screens and stylus. After you've created your character, you are presented with a world map, and you use the stylus to move your character around to available locations, either by visiting them or obtaining a quest that must be completed in that area.
You begin in the city of Bartonia, the largest Agarian city in the world of Etheria. The Agarians are humanoids who have mainly stayed within their own borders and kept to themselves. The Agarian military force has five different factions, one of which you get to join. Your first quest is to visit your father in a nearby city, which leads to the discovery that the Undead have recently been lurking around the area.
After scouting out several groups of Undead, you realize that the Orcs have banded together with them in an attempt to cause destruction. The Agarians are forced to join together with the rest of Etheria and strive toward a common goal: ending the lurking evil. As you play through Puzzle Quest, more storyline unfolds, which leads you into cities and outposts all across the large world map.
In each major city, you have the option to Get Quests, which consists of main storyline quests and optional side-quests to earn rewards and experience; the ability to visit the tavern, which will provide you with "rumors" or "tips" for a small fee; or shop for gear that will benefit you in battle. Exclusive to Bartonia is the option to visit the Citadel, where you can use your hard-earned shekels to build several structures that may aid your quests. A few of these buildings include a dungeon, which you can use to capture monsters and tame them to ride as mounts; a forge, which allows you to craft gear out of runes; and a mage tower, which allows you to learn spells from captured enemies.
Before I get into the battle system of Puzzle Quest, I should explain your character's statistics: Earth Mastery, Fire Mastery, Air Mastery, Water Mastery, Battle, Cunning, and Morale. Alongside these stats are also your Health, Gold, and Experience. Each time you level up, you are given four stat points to place in any of the seven main stats that I've listed.
Bejeweled fans rejoice, because if you used to be the local pro "Bejeweler," Puzzle Quest is certainly the game for you. When you enter battle, you and your enemy's health and mana bars (Earth, Fire, Air, and Water) appear on the top DS screen. On the bottom is the game board, as well as a list of spells you can use. By clicking on "View Enemy," you can view the spells available to your opponent.
Located on the game board are random combinations of seven main icons on an 8x8 grid, and the object is to use the stylus to swap two adjacent icons to create a line of three or more. Matching four icons grants you an extra turn, and matching five grants you an extra turn and a "wild card" icon. Once matched up, the icons disappear, and you'll receive the mana for the corresponding element. For example, grouping three red circles will add to your Fire mana, while yellow will add to your Air mana, and so on. When you line up the skull icons, you'll deal damage directly to your opponent's health points. The purple stars impart instant experience points, and the stacks of gold will add money to your income for that battle.
Collecting mana provides you with the necessary ingredients to cast different spells. Some spells cause direct damage to your opponent's health, some may drain the enemy's mana, some may heal you, and some may even change the game board to your advantage (or disadvantage). In essence, Puzzle Quest is not about matching up skulls over and over to perform straight damage to your opponent; it is about obtaining as much mana as possible and using a variety of spells to win. Regardless of how many spells you have in your knowledge base, you may only equip nine at a time; this key gameplay element increases the strategy quotient and keeps the game balanced.
While traveling in the world of Etheria, you will come across runes, items, and companions which will be added to your hero inventory and grant some sort of bonus. For example, a companion could give you the ability to have the first attack on any humanoid enemy you face. Upon finding runes, you may go back to your forge and attempt to craft yourself some new gear. "Crafting" is similar to the battle system and uses a similar Bejeweled-like system to acknowledge success or failure while crafting. Later on, you have the option to lay siege to any city. Cities have more health and stronger attacks against you, but taking over a city will allow you to receive a profit from time to time during your travels. The only downside to taking over a city is that people can rebel ... and things won't be pretty.
The graphical art and animations for Puzzle Quest are about as good as they can possibly be for the NDS system, and the world map is very detailed with a wide range of terrain differences, including mountains, snow, and barren land. The icons and sprites used during battle work perfectly for symbolizing different key elements of the game board. The music is simply amazing and lends a true fantasy war-like feel to the entire experience. Little sounds here and there also clue you in on important events, such as entering battle and being struck while in combat.
The multiplayer mode in Puzzle Quest enables the NDS' Wi-Fi connection and uses a simple Create/Join method of connecting. You and your opponent choose one of your two characters and play against each other, just as you would against a monster in the single-player portion. Having a Wizard, I can see where some balance issues may occur while facing someone. Certain spells have the ability to take out monsters in a single hit, and a character with the appropriate gear and allocated stat points could do the same thing.
Puzzle Quest also has a significant amount of replay value. My first character was a Wizard, but I recently created a Warrior character and am now leveling him up by performing the same quests. On top of that, the developers made it so that you can play at your own pace. Each battle was designed to last only a few moments, so you can choose to take on hordes of enemies before turning off the Nintendo DS, or fight just a single enemy to gain some XP.
Overall, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords has a truly unique concept and includes the ability to appeal to both role-playing and puzzle fans alike. The game has definitely created a potentially exciting new genre of entertainment, and I think Vicious Cycle did an excellent job in portraying this new look and feel, while still focusing on a beautiful, well-written storyline.