I recently received what I feel has to be the very best anniversary gift ever. I will be the first to admit that it is not for everyone, but for a select few it’s better than diamonds or gold. I am of course talking about Puzzle Quest for the Nintendo DS. While I have received jewelry in the past, I must admit that I get a lot more use out of Puzzle Quest than I ever did out of a bracelet or necklace.
Puzzle Quest is an interesting mix of RPG and standard puzzle game. You run around an ancient land battling everything from zombies to dragons to mechanized minotaurs. You defeat them by lining up jewels to boost mana so you can cast spells. It’s pretty much playing Bejeweled against an AI opponent. And much like Bejeweled, before you know it you’ll have spent hours playing it. I’d look up from playing to realize that the DS’s battery was running low despite having charged it the night before. Then I’d glance at the clock to discover just how long I had been playing. World of Warcraft at least has a clock in its interface, so I’d know when I needed to eat and sleep.
Thankfully, the game starts with a few tutorial levels to get you accustomed to the gameplay. I suggest replaying those levels a lot at first. You need to level up if you want any decent spells for when you play the game in earnest. I should also note that you can only adjust the difficulty of the gameplay after saving the game and reloading your character. It defaults to medium, so if it starts off too hard for you it’s easily fixed.
The plot is a tried and true one. Your peaceful kingdom has started coming under attack by sinister forces. You, a young knight from a high ranking family, are given the task of fighting back the forces of darkness. You start small, killing rodents and insects, steadily progressing to zombies and ogres, picking up traveling companions along the way. Then you battle dragons and giants until you finally defeat a god, restoring peace to the realm. The plot isn’t terribly important to enjoying the game, which is a good thing. The developer’s attempts to add depth with side stories is laughable at best. Each member that is added to your party has a back story, and a set of side quests. My favorite example of how poorly developed the characters are is the back story of the dragon and the elf that join your party. The elf is a member of an order of dragon riders, but sadly you discover that his dragon has been slain. So of course you come to the conclusion that eventually your elf’s new mount will be the dragon traveling with you. I expected there to be several conversations where the two get to know each other and form a bond. I overestimated the publisher’s ability to produce character development, though. All I got was a conversation shortly before defeating the final boss. I’m paraphrasing slightly, but the dialogue was as follows: “When this is over, if you’d like I will be your mount.” “Okay, sounds good.” Scintillating, isn’t it?
Of course this game isn’t all thin plot devices and battling the bad guys. You can also lay waste to cities and forge a continent spanning empire that you control. This, however, has no effect on the overarching game plot. At first I conquered a pair of cities, because I felt bad that my actions had spoiled their peace treaty. There was no discernable effect, but my conscience was eased. It doesn’t seem to matter if you own a city; you frequently have to battle your subjects to get what you want anyway. Once you have a city though, you can add features to it that give you special abilities. There is something that lets you learn spells from your enemies, something that lets you create items to boost your stats, and several other useful things. These features are just as engrossing as the rest of the game, often more so. It depends on your preference for the various strategies you have to use to obtain your objectives.
If you like Bejeweled and other games of its ilk, this is the game for you. This isn’t a game you buy for the plot (which is a good thing), but for the puzzles and the strategy. It’s a lot of fun and the replay value is high, especially if you try the multiplayer mode, though I admit I haven’t yet. If you own a DS, go pick up a copy. Or, if you’re as obsessed as I am, two, one for yourself and one for a friend to play against.
This columnist would love to hear your thoughts on her work. All glowing praise should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and all hate mail should be directed to Dark Wijg, exactly where it belongs.