Developer: Griptonite Games
Release Date: November 25, 2008
It might be difficult to believe, but Neopets Puzzle Adventure is actually a title that's worth picking up for the NDS. I've never really been a fan of the franchise, and while I'm sure it has a strong following with the younger crowd, any Neopets-related title I've played in the past hasn't held my attention for long. However, with Puzzle Adventure, I found myself surprisingly addicted to the core game, and it's a title that I think most DS owners are going to enjoy.
It's also a game that probably owes its existence to the popular title, Puzzle Quest, which took a tried-and-true game, Bejeweled, warped it into a strange mix of RPG mechanics with puzzle gameplay, and was one of the better games from the last couple of years. Puzzle Adventure takes that idea and applies it to another classic, Othello, and once again, the combination is a great success. It's not quite as involved as Puzzle Quest with its RPG elements, and it's still geared toward the younger crowd, but if you've ever played a game or two of Othello (I go back to the NES here), then you'll know how addictive the fairly simple variation on checkers can be.
There's a story inside of Puzzle Adventure, but truth be told, I couldn't be bothered to read through most of it after the first couple of areas. The writing didn't do much to draw me in, and I never really cared for any of the characters I encountered. If you're a fan of the license, this might be a bigger draw for you than it was for me, but anyone who isn't overly familiar with Neopets will probably care less. Instead, it was just something that got in the way of the actual gameplay, and I quickly skipped over the majority of it once I reached the title's halfway point.
The main draw, of course, is going to be the gameplay. When Puzzle Adventure starts up, you'll pick from a number of Neopets (T-Rex!), a gender and a name. From there, you'll start the main story and be introduced to the Othello gameplay in a short tutorial round. Othello itself isn't particularly hard to wrap your head around, and while it does require some thinking to be skilled at it, it's not a game that requires a lot upfront thought to get started.
Puzzle Adventure is laid out in a series of maps with various locations. As you advance through the story, a location will be starred as a point of interest, and once you go there, you'll either advance the story or be given a battle request. Once the battle begins, you'll see four pieces forming a square shape in the center of the game board. There are two different colors here, red and blue, and the end goal of each match is to have more of your own color populating the board by the time each space is filled. This is done by flipping your opponent's pieces over to your color by placing one of your pieces next to your opponent's piece on both ends. Like I said, it's a pretty simple mechanic, but the end result is a little more involved than you might think. You can create large chains the more the board gets filled up, going not only horizontally or vertically, but diagonally as well. The opponent will try to bait you into giving up a large section of tokens at once, especially in the later matches, and early on, you'll need to be vigilant so as not to commit some easy-to-make mistakes.
Of course, Puzzle Adventures wouldn't be much if it were just straight-up Othello matches, so there are some specific Neopets additions. One is the shockwave effect, which is gained after making multiple chains come together, which will randomly flip one of your opponent's tokens into your color; this can open up another chain of flips, depending on where the shockwave occurs. Then there's the addition of Pet Pets, which are little creatures that can't be used once in a match with certain gameplay-changing effects, such as taking out two pieces, keeping a piece from being flipped for the remainder of the match, or even randomly changing the colors of an entire row of game pieces. Finally, you gain points or experience that go toward raising your level for every successful move you make. Chaining together rows or multiple pieces will increase a point multiplier, which allows you to gain levels faster, although gaining levels doesn't add a whole lot to the game. At the most, the only difference I noticed was that I could carry more Pet Pets as the game advanced, but aside from that, I didn't see any other effects.
This is where Neopets Puzzle Adventure comes up a little short. While it's obvious that it takes a certain amount of inspiration from Puzzle Quest (listen to some of the music if you get a chance), it doesn't take enough away from Puzzle Quest to feel nearly as fleshed-out as that title. You can level up your character, but there's little need to do so. There's no HP, no magic attacks (aside from the single-use Pet Pets), no mana, and no real overall strategy to implement that's any different from what you might use in a typical Othello match. In the end, there's not enough here to make it feel like you're playing something unique, or at least a unique take on a classic game. Thankfully, Othello is still pretty darn addicting, and likewise, Puzzle Adventure carries that addictive nature well enough.
Even with its shortcomings, I enjoyed Neopets Puzzle Adventure quite a bit, and while I think that a better game could have been developed with these ideas, it's still a title that I'd suggest to DS owners, and something that shouldn't be overlooked simply because of the license attached to it. If you've enjoyed Puzzle Quest at some point, I think you'll find something to like in Neopets Puzzle Adventure as well, and I'd definitely suggest picking it up.
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