Developer: Infinite Interactive
Release Date: December 18, 2008
The Neopets license is no stranger to video games. Years ago, Sony made some Neopets-themed adventure games for the PS2 and PSP. While the games were decent, it was generally accepted that the adventure genre was a logical place to take the immensely popular Web site property, since they're pretty simple and straightforward. When Capcom got a hold of the license recently, they decided to do something different with it. The result is Neopets Puzzle Adventure, a puzzle game for the Nintendo Wii. While they are to be applauded for doing something different with licensed games, they should also be scolded for putting together such a technically poor product.
The basis of Neopets Puzzle Adventure is a fairly simple variation of Othello, also known to some people as Reversi. With a given number of squares on the board, players take turns trying to occupy as many spaces as possible with their colored tokens. Players can only place tokens on a square located horizontally, vertically or diagonally from the rest of their pieces. Those pieces must then somehow connect to another token of the same color in a straight line. If the opponent's tokens are caught in that line, then they get flipped over to your color. Each token on the board counts as points toward your score, while occupying certain squares gives you either bonus points or the ability to flip enemy tokens to your own color. Gameplay ends when all available spaces are occupied and the person with the most points at the end of the match is declared the winner.
The single-player game is much like Puzzle Quest, which isn't all that surprising since this title was created by the same developer. After selecting a Neopet, you go off on an adventure that involves helping other Neopets with their own personal quests. As you go and complete these quests, you get to power up your own character, boosting any one of three stats. Along the way, you can also capture and tame petpets, which can then be used as special attacks in your various battles. With over 150 individual battles and sub-quests to go along with your main quest, you are given plenty of opportunities to level up your character as well as unlock secret items that can be applied to the Neopets Web site.
The multiplayer portion takes the basic premise of the single-player game and removes the quest mode. You and a friend take turns trying to best each other in the puzzle game, with the winner getting points for their character.
Of all the things that could drag down Neopets Puzzle Adventure, the graphics become one of the main culprits. Just about everything here is constructed of nice-looking, brightly colored sprites, and the drawing style of the Neopets is captured here perfectly. While all of this is fine, the frame rate is horrible. When in a game, the engine seems to struggle with flipping over a few tiles. Players can easily detect missing frames during a simple flip, especially with the bonus score text skipping all over the place. Any other special effects during gameplay, such as a shockwave jolt or a burst of color when multiple tiles are flipped, also bog down the engine. On the overworld map, the task of having your Neopet walk from one building to another is laborious; you can see your character warp several times during his journey. Yes, the Wii isn't exactly the most advanced system out of the current generation of consoles, but there should be no reason a completely 2-D game should make it struggle like this.
The other cause for such a bad analysis comes from the difficulty level. The computer is just plain merciless when it comes to trying to beat you in the game. This is especially true in the first few levels, where gamers are simply trying to understand how things work. Instead of getting a few easy levels to learn the ropes, they are greeted with frustration due to the relentless nature of the enemy AI. Considering that there is no difficulty adjustment present in the title, you simply have to sit there and try over and over again until you get a lucky break and beat it. This was slightly forgivable in a game like Puzzle Quest where losses still meant that your character would power up, which gave you incentive to keep playing so you could eventually get strong enough to take out the computer. However, no such leveling system exists here when you lose, making the experience more frustrating than it already is.
The sound is pretty basic and uneventful. The sound effects and music are decent and do their jobs well, though the latter is easily forgettable material. The dearth of voice acting makes the game feel a bit empty, though, especially since there are no sound effects made whenever any of the characters speak to each other in cut scenes. The only thing resembling voices are the chirps that occur when your character travels between buildings. It's nice, but when you have more space on your medium than a DS cartridge, you need more than three types of chirps in order to make it good enough to replace voices.
The controls for Neopets Puzzle Adventure are simple, which is a good thing for this type of game. In fact, the only controller you'll need is your Wiimote to navigate the on-screen arrow, and the A button confirms a square or power selection. The controls respond well and are pretty accurate, even though precision and speed aren't exactly needed for this title.
There is nothing wrong with the ideals behind Neopets Puzzle Adventure. Considering the developer's background, it would have been simple to just copy the Puzzle Quest formula right down to the Bejeweled mechanics and paste in the Neopets characters to end the project right then and there. Instead, they took the simple elements from their previous hit and applied a few of them to a new puzzle experience, making a familiar game feel fresh again. Their big mistake, however, was putting the idea into an engine that could barely handle itself on the Wii. Add in a bland audio presentation to the mix and a steep difficulty level, and you have a game that ends up being more boring than fun. Die-hard Neopets fans will fight through all of this just so they can get the codes for their Web site accounts. All others should either pick up Puzzle Quest or wait for the inevitable sequel instead of putting up with this somewhat-unpolished product.
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