Developer: Infinite Interactive / Publisher: D3 Publisher / ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes) / Played on: DS / Price: $19.99
Over three years have passed since our free time was so easily sapped away by Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. This next installment in the hybrid-genre series, simply called Puzzle Quest 2, brings back the same gem-matching puzzles and RPG elements seen in the original. With an expanded story mode, playing as multiple classes, and a new combat system, Puzzle Quest 2 aims for even more greatness than the original.
Compared to most puzzle games, the story in Puzzle Quest 2 is quite epic, but when compared to any RPG it seems overused and ordinary. A mysterious entity is threatening to destroy the entire city of Verloren and you are tasked with the tremendous task of stopping the evil by yourself. You start your journey saving a random town from raiding goblins and trolls, and eventually move on to tackling bigger, badder foes like werewolves, a lich, and massive dragons. Though it’s interesting to see a puzzle game use a strong story, it still takes a backseat to the gameplay as a driving force keep you coming back. There really isn’t a particular reason to care for the villagers and kingdoms, but you’ll still find yourself searching for every last side quest and mission to gain the bonus gold and experience awarded for their completion.
Compared to the first Puzzle Quest game, Puzzle Quest 2 is simpler to play but still introduces more depth and strategy. After choosing a class, you match gems and dole out the damage to your enemies in no time. In order to win each battle you have to drain your adversary’s HP to zero and there are plenty of ways to do so. Matching three or more colored gems adds mana to your pool that can later be used to unleash devastating spells to either directly damage your foes or change the battlefield’s arrangement. Alternatively, matching skulls together deals damage modified by your character’s strength. Gauntlet gems, a new addition to the series, can also be matched up and used to attack your assailant with an equipped weapon like a lance or magical dagger. The addition of the gauntlet piece as well as the removal of the unnecessary gold and experience pieces from the original game creates a greater strategy challenge as arbitrarily matching gems will no longer lead to a successful battle. Also missing the second time around is the ability to capture mounts to aid you in battle, as well as being able to lay siege to a city. With these omissions the gameplay is much more streamlined and easier to play for the casual audience but may come as a disappointment to RPG enthusiasts.
Experience points, gold pieces, and the occasional loot in the form of weapons and armor is earned at the end of each match and your character can level up periodically, improving one of their base stats that subsequently alters the effectiveness of spells and attacks. A higher intelligence score lets you produce mana quickly, while a greater strength score allows for the use of mightier weapons. Enemies level up with you so a better strategy will always win a fight over simply being the stronger character physically. Throughout the journey mini-game puzzles allow you to open chests or pick locks on doors. They play similar to regular puzzles but add a bit of variety to the experience and are a good break from the standard action of the game. A quick-play option offers up one-on-one fights between all of the game’s creatures and local wireless multiplayer is also available. Overall the gameplay can be very addictive as one fight will turn into many and the hours will seamlessly fly by late into the night.
Although similar in gameplay, Puzzle Quest 2 looks entirely different than its predecessor. Gone are the overworld maps and kingdoms you traveled between. In their places are actual towns and people. Graphically, it’s nothing staggering, but definitely a leap forward for the series to see actual characters instead of portraits. Many of the landscapes fit the archetype for RPGs, ranging from icy mountain tops to dreary caves. You spend most of your time on the puzzles screen, which is simple, clear, and unspectacular.
All of the action is operated with the DS’s stylus and feels natural and easy. Moving gems is as simple as touching two adjacent gems and choosing spells is as effortless as touching the spell name. Navigating menus and spell books is a snap and will become almost second nature after playing the game for a few hours. If there’s one detail worthy of serious complaint it’s the amount of auto-saving. After every battle, story piece, or completed quest the game will auto-save and not allow you to move until the saving is done. This option cannot be turned off and having to wait ten or so seconds every few minutes is a drag to the overall experience On occasion the touch screen will register a move you didn’t intend but this incurs no penalty and doesn’t happen as frequently as in the past. Aside from these complaints the game handles great and veterans of the series will feel right at home and ready to burst gems.
Puzzle Quest 2 is everything that a sequel should be: bigger, refined, and more of the same material that made the first game great. Fans of PopCap games like Bejeweled or Zuma will love the simple-yet-addictive gameplay while RPG buffs will enjoy the character customization and leveling system. Puzzle Quest 2 for the DS is a great puzzle game that anyone looking for a game to sap away their free time is sure to enjoy. Be warned: this adventure is one that will be hard to put away.