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Developer:
Infinite Interacive
Publisher: D3 Publisher of America
Platform: DS, PSP
Release Date: March 20, 2007

by Jason Ferguson




Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is an extremely unique RPG experience. Blending match-three style gameplay and deep RPG elements, this game really has it all, and from the moment I fired it up, I was addicted.


Youíll start by choosing a class for your character, which determines your abilities and what color magic you have affinity with. You also have a few different character portraits to choose from. There is a story to the game, but itís not really anything thatís going to stand out. The game takes place in the Warlords' universe where the Evil Lord Bane has arisen and his minions are causing all sorts of chaos throughout the land. Itís your job to investigate the situation and keep your kingdom safe from your enemy. During the quest, some of the dialogue can be long and drawn out, but fortunately you can skip it. Once the game starts, youíll find yourself moving about the world map using the touch screen, battling enemies, and receiving quests from your Queen.


The basic premise of the game is simple: Itís a match-three game where you try to line up at least three like pieces in order to make them disappear. The more in a row you get, the more points youíll be awarded. However, this game takes match-three puzzle games to the next level!


Each piece on the board has some significance. By destroying a red piece you will fill your red magic gauge, blue will fill your blue gauge, and the same goes for green and yellow. Your mana is used to cast powerful magic spells, which vary depending on your class and level. Purple pieces will give you bonus experience at the end of a battle, and gold pieces will give you some hard-earned cash to buy equipment! If you get 4 or more pieces in a row, youíll gain an extra turn. Probably the most important pieces on the board are the skulls, which can be matched in order to do damage to your opponent. Even deadlier, you will encounter +5 skulls that do extra damage. There are also occasional wild-card pieces that can be used for any of the four colors.


If youíre having trouble finding a match, just wait and youíll be given some hints to help. The game isnít timed, so relax and find the best match possible. If you make an incorrect match, youíre penalized by taking damage and losing your turn. When you run out of moves, you suffer from mana drain. That means both you and your opponent lose all of your MP and the board reshuffles. If you lose a battle, the game doesnít end. You still gain experience and gold, and can have another shot at battling most enemies.


Combat is turn-based, with you and your enemy taking turns trying to take advantage of the board. Normally, the skulls will be the main point of contention, but youíll also want to fill your magic gauge in order to cast spells against your enemy. These spells have a variety of effects, from dealing damage to the enemy to preventing damage to you. Thereís a lot of strategy in choosing each of your moves, because you have to try and out-think your opponent and predict what he/she might do next.


At the end of combat, youíll gain experience and level up. Upon leveling, you can distribute points to your stats in order to increase your strength. In this way you will increase your max HP and MP, learn new abilities, increase your chance of getting a random extra turn, and more! For example, increasing your Fire Mastery will increase your Max Fire Magic, as well as increase the amount of MP you receive from each red combination of red gems. Increasing your cunning will improve your chances of getting the first move in battle as well as increase the amount of experience and gold you gain at the end of each fight. How you manage your stats can have a major impact on how youíre able to handle a battle! While matching three like pieces may seem easy enough, there are a lot of other factors to worry about, like bonus turns, magic spells, and your HP, so properly managing your upgrades is important.


The game features a variety of enemies, each with their own special abilities. The vampire bat, for example, can drain your HP, while a thief can steal your money. Eventually, youíll begin recruiting allies who will aide you in battle. For example, one of your allies is strong against the undead, so heíll deal damage to undead enemies for you before combat even starts!


Most of the battles follow along with the story. Youíll be assigned quests to slay monsters, fight off orcs and hunt down missing citizens. Along your journey, monsters will also pop up along your path on the world map and obstruct your way. If you want to pass, youíll have to fight them, but otherwise most battles are scripted and can be avoided until youíre ready. Should you want to fight, there are plenty of side quests that will give you an opportunity to gain experience and valuable items. Either way, combat is a lot of fun, but you wonít have worry about an excessive amount of battles in this game.


You can also visit shops in order to purchase new weapons and equipment that you can carry into battle with you. This equipment provides bonuses to your stats and will make you a more formidable opponent. Many of your foes will also have special equipment to pump them up, allowing them to deal extra damage or granting them new abilities. Between the different creature types and the wide variety of equipment, each enemy will be very unique and you will have to use different strategies in order to defeat them.


Outside of battle, the top screen displays your menus, which allows you to view your spells, equip items, and check your quest log. The bottom screen will display the world map. During combat, the top screen displays stats, including the HP and MP of you and your enemy. The bottom screen displays the battlefield. By pressing the shoulder buttons, you can reverse the screen display.


Puzzle Quest is a game thatís easy to pick up and play at any time, as well as a game thatís easy to save and quit whenever you need to. This makes it a great game for the handhelds. However, the small screen sometimes makes it difficult to seek out and identify objects on the screen, which will likely cause some confusion and slow down the gameplay. Itís also very difficult to keep track of whatís happening on both of the screens at once, and using the stylus to select and match the tiny gems will probably take some getting used to. Some of the text that pops up is also fairly intrusive to the gameplay. For example, when you manage to match four in a row, youíll get a bonus turn message. Unfortunately, the message fills up a good portion of the tiny screen and stays up for longer than it really should. It doesnít really hurt the experience, but itís definitely an annoyance. Because of these flaws, the DS probably isnít the IDEAL platform to play the game on, however, these are flaws that DS veterans will be able to completely overlook.


While I canít say from experience, Iíve heard that the PSP version is the superior of the two. The demo was released on PC, which was a lot of fun, and honestly, I think a final PC version would have been best for the game due to the control scheme. Fans will also be glad to hear that the game will eventually be arriving on Xbox Live Arcade.


There isnít a lot of variety in the music or sound effects in Puzzle Quest. For the most part, it sounds like a generic match-three style game. Some of the music is actually of fairly high quality, but the DS speakers wonít really allow you to take advantage of it. Thereís a nice anime-style design to the game, along with bright colors and a vibrant world. However, the small screen makes some objects indistinguishable.


Thereís plenty of reason to keep on playing this game. Not only is Puzzle Quest a lengthy adventure, but you can play along with a friend and battle it out. The fact that the game is so easy to pick up and play makes it the perfect game to play on a road trip, and youíll probably find yourself playing Puzzle Quest for quite some time.


All in all, Puzzle Quest is an addictive experience that should easily please both the hardcore and casual gamer. The enjoyable puzzle-style gameplay and the easy learning curve also make it a great way to introduce newcomers to the RPG genre.


Final Grade: 85%




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