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   Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords - Reader Review  

Challenge of the Genre
by Prince Jeremy, Duke of Otterland

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Adjustable
COMPLETION TIME
15-60 Hours
OVERALL

4.0/5

Rating definitions 

   History has brought with it many great combinations: Adam and Eve, Romulus and Remus, Romeo and Juliet, peanut butter and jelly, Beavis and Butt-head, and so forth. The year 2007 brought with it another peculiar combination: puzzle games and RPGs. The Infinite Interactive-developed Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords for the Nintendo DS and the Playstation Portable seemed to come out of nowhere, although it provides a strangely satisfying, addictive hybrid of genres.

   The player encounters battles occasionally on the world map and during various quests, with all fights being one-on-one. Combat centers around a giant puzzle grid containing various types of pieces. The player and the enemy take turns swapping two adjacent pieces in order to match three of a kind. The effects of matching depend on the type of tiles matched; for instance, matching red, green, yellow, and blue pieces will add to the player or enemy's mana reserve, which is necessary for either side to cast spells. Matching skull tiles will deal damage to the player or enemy, matching purple gems will add to the player's experience, and matching gold pieces will add to the player's money.

   If the player or enemy matches four or more like tiles, they'll gain an extra turn. Either side can also chain combinations of matching tiles, with the player sometimes able to obtain a Heroic Effort, in which case he or she gains additional experience. If there comes a time where no tile matches are possible, the board completely empties and refills with tiles, in which case both the player and the enemy lose all their collected mana. The goal of every battle is to completely drain the enemy's HP through matching skull tiles and/or damaging it with magic spells. Thankfully, if the player loses all his or her HP, he or she still keeps some experience and money from the battle, and can try the fight again later in most instances.

Too bad that doesn't work in real life... 4-of-a-kinds are key to victory in some instances.

   There are also many elements outside of battle that nonetheless play a role in combat. Players can search various areas on the dot-connected world map for runes (which require a fight with an enemy), which the player can use at his or her base citadel to create items, a process that also utilizes the gem grid. Players can also eventually capture enemies to learn spells from them, again requiring the gem grid. Moreover, leveling up allows the player to distribute four points among various attributes, and eventually, the player can also pay money to boost these attributes at the base citadel.

   Overall, the battle system contains plenty of features to keep it from getting boring, though some certainly won't appreciate the puzzle-driven nature of the game, which can admittedly get repetitive at times. The randomized nature of combat could also turn players off, with luck sometimes being necessary, especially later on in the game, to defeat the toughest enemies. Still, combat is fairly fun and addictive, and is certainly one of the main draws to the game.

   The Nintendo DS version of Puzzle Quest almost entirely utilizes the stylus for interaction, which works surprisingly well. Menu and map navigation are easy, and finding out how to advance the main storyline is hardly problematic, as red exclamation points above buildings indicate the presence of quests that do so. The stylus also naturally lends itself to battles, which consequently flow smoothly. There are hardly any hiccups in the interface aside from the infrequent glitch, but otherwise, interaction doesn't detract very heavily from the game at all.

   Puzzle Quest just screams original with its combination of puzzle and RPG elements, although it does derive the puzzle element from Bejeweled and the quest system from games such as Arc the Lad III. Still, Puzzle Quest has enough aspects to make it a fresh part of the RPG genre.

And pretty rewarding, too. Getting a Heroic Effort is, well, a heroic effot.

   The story, though, isn't as much of a draw to the game. It's more or less a generic RPG plot, where the player performs a bunch of random tasks and ultimately comes into conflict with an evil lord. The dialogue is decently written, though, and there are maybe a few interesting characters, events and a tiny bit of backstory, but otherwise, the plot isn't much to write home about.

   The music is decent for the most part, albeit a bit repetitive and unvaried, with little in the way of sound effects, as well. There are also some voice clips from a sole actress, which are actually fairly good. The visuals aren't anything spectacular, given their relative simplicity and slight pixelation, although the art is pretty good. All in all, while Puzzle Quest doesn't really excel aurally or visually, neither aspect severely detracts from the game.

   Playing time is certainly flexible, ranging somewhere from fifteen to sixty hours, depending upon the time spent with the endless extra quests, and aspects such as a customizable starting character and adjustable difficulty add decent replayability as well. Overall, Puzzle Quest is an enjoyable title that successfully breaks new ground with its addictive combination of puzzle and RPG elements. Though some have suggested that the Nintendo DS version is inferior, it still plays fairly well, and the game is, regardless of system, worth a look from those looking for something different.

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