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Late to the Party: Puzzle Quest

Puzzle Quest

 One of the things about being a hardcasual / midcore / harmcore (the last is actually the name of the hardcore band I was once in) gamer is that you’re not always going to be the first one to the party. In fact, it might be months after the buzz that you pick up a game – after some discount-bin surfing or some finally-having-time-for-it (sorry, Mass Effect, you’re going to stay in that pile for a while). Hence, a new feature: Late to the Party Reviews.

To initiate the column, I decided I’d give Puzzle Quest DS a shot. This is the exceptionally well-reviewed, fawned over puzzle-RPG, which I must give credit for giving gaming a new, unlikely hyphenate. It spent some time on the PC before moving to the PSP, XBLA, and the DS, my puzzler platform of choice.

Let’s get down to it – I love puzzlers. I’ve been playing Peggle’s challenge mode on my iPod for months now, I played Professor Leyton with a dedication and fury I haven’t given anything since BioShock, and my Live friends may notice that I’ve dropped a bit of time into Hexic HD. 

This game, though, breaks every fundamental rule of the things I enjoy about puzzle games.

 Its pick-up-and-play nature is broken up with completely arbitrary fantasy cliches – may I never have to “slay an orc” again as long as I live – and talking heads that last longer, and have none of the charm of, the often-amusing ones in Professor Leyton. These scenes, not to mention the useless overworld map, break up the gameplay with nothing but tedium and blandness.

 But that’s the game’s choice, and great gameplay can trump story – especially when we’re considering that our game in question here is a puzzle game for a portable console. My expectations were never to be wowed by the story, because this was all about the fun, challenging gameplay.

Learn how wrong I was after the jump.

The puzzles themselves are a mediocre Bejeweled clone. Swap two jewels, make groups, the bigger the group the bigger your bonus – et cetera. The puzzles at a base level don’t push the Bejeweled paradigm any further than a few different results for chaining and large lines. 

Not to mention, the touch-only controls can be difficult for those of us who play our DSes on the subways, trains, and cars of the world – why not a backup d-pad option? Just for nostalgia and commuting’s sakes? 

But the real change from Bejeweled is Puzzle Quest’s RPG elements, which could have taken the puzzles’ mediocrity and added new challenges as the game evolved. I imagined that the game would constantly be being rebalanced – like classic RPGs, each time I entered a new world, my old spells and armor would be proven far too weak, and with some effort and level-grinding (jewel-polishing?), I would gain enough experience to break through the boss’s powers and move on to a new world with new challenges.

Instead, the game seems content to develop your powers at a rate out of touch with the rest of the world. After a few battles – I can’t imagine if I had gone on side quests – and a basic allocation of points and equipment, I was ready to take on any foe with powers and weapons that worked NO MATTER WHAT.

Oh, except when the game felt oddly unfair – when enemies would use their first turn to wipe out half my health in the kind of Pinball Wizard combos I never seemed to have a chance at, even with some careful strategizing.

I learned Puzzle Quest in half an hour, and it took me three or four to master it. That’s no way for a puzzle game to play – even, I’ll venture, for a puzzle-RPG – and I can’t imagine wanting to go back to take the time to dominate it. Puzzle games are fun because you never know what the next challenge will be, or how you will be able to use what you’ve learned in a new way. For a broken, overpowered game like Puzzle Quest, the fun is entirely missing.

 

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Filed under: Portable Media, Reviews, , , ,

One Response

  1. Steve Fulton says:

    Another great post! Puzzle Quest certainly falls into this gaming category.
    Just so you know, we have started consuming your RSS feed over at http://www.midcoregamer.com. Now your new posts will be displayed on our home page.

    I hope you don’t mind. If you do, please tell me and I’ll remove the feed.

    Thanks,

    Steve Fulton

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this is a blog about video games by chris plante, sam ryan and chris littler.


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