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Developer:
Infinite Interactive
Publisher: D3 Publisher of America
Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: October 10, 2007

by Jason Ferguson




Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is an innovative blend of puzzle and RPG-style gameplay that was originally released for the PSP and DS. Now the critically-acclaimed adventure is available for the Xbox 360 by means of the Xbox Live Marketplace. So does Puzzle Quest make a successful transition from handheld to console? Read on to find out!


There are several different game modes to choose from in Puzzle Quest. The quest is the highlight of the game, featuring the main story and a variety of missions and enemies to fight. If youíve only got time for one quick battle, choose Instant Action. You can also play ĎChoose Opponentí which allows you to pick an opponent of any creature type to face off against. This is a great way to test the fighting styles of various opponents and level yourself up in preparation for the main quest.


Before the game starts, you can also set up the turn time limit. By default there is no time limit, making Puzzle Quest a leisurely game to play. However, if youíre looking for a bigger challenge, you can try a timed game. You can also set up the gameís difficulty. "Normal" is the default difficulty and will award you with a balanced amount of experience. Choosing the "hard" difficulty will yield greater experience, and "easy" will reduce the experience you earn.


Early on, the game will walk you through everything, teaching you the basics of gameplay and character building. Of course, you can turn this off if you want, but itís a handy feature for newcomers.


The game takes place in the popular Warlords universe where the Evil Lord Bane has arisen and his minions are running amuck and causing all sorts of chaos. As a knight, itís your job to investigate the situation and keep your kingdom safe from your enemy. Once the game starts, youíll find yourself moving about the world map, battling enemies and receiving quests from your Queen. As the game progresses, youíll travel to new kingdoms, recruit new party members, improve your characterís abilities, and begin receiving side quests from new characters.


While the story is interesting enough to keep you playing, itís probably not going to stand out a lot. In a lot of ways, this tale is typical fare for an RPGÖ knights in training, a party of heroes, and an evil warlord rising to power. Instead, the addictive puzzle gameplay and deep character building will be the gameís main appeal. During the quest, much of the dialogue can be long and drawn out. I found myself weary of the text-heavy conversations, but on the positive side, you can skip it all.


You start the quest off by creating a character. First off you choose a class, name, and an appearance for your character. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of character portraits for your appearance. There are four classes in the game with different magic affinities and unique abilities. The Wizard, for example, can cast powerful magic spells like Fireball and Wall of Fire, largely focused on red and yellow magic. The remaining classes are Druid, Warrior, and Knight.


Puzzle Quest is a match-three-style puzzle game that is similar to games such as Bejeweled. Youíd be surprised how many people approached me while I was playing this game and said ďIs this Bejeweled?Ē or ďOh, I love Bejeweled!Ē Your basic goal is to match three like gems in a row to make them disappear. However, thereís quite a bit of additional depth in Puzzle Quest that differentiates it from the norm. You have equipment, abilities, special gems, and stats, all of which come into play during battle.


Another big difference between Puzzle Quest and games like Bejeweled is that there is a lot of strategy in choosing which gems to match. In Bejeweled, for example, all you really need to do is match three or more in a row. Sure, thereís strategy in finding the best matches in order to match more than three, but thatís really it. Puzzle Quest involves that same strategy, but adds a lot more depth because youíll use different gems for different purposes. If you need to cast a spell using blue magic, youíll want to swap out some blue gems to fill your blue magic gauge. If you want to deal some damage, youíll be looking for skulls.


Each gem on the board has some significance. By destroying a red gem you will add to your red magic gauge, blue will fill your blue gauge, and the same goes for green and yellow. This magic 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 gems on the battlefield 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 and destroy nearby skulls. There are also occasional wild-card gems that can be used for any of the four colors.


Gem selection and swapping is fast and easy with the Xbox 360 controller. Use the analog sticks to move around the board, and click on a piece to select it. Then, once your piece is selected, simply move the analog stick in the direction of whatever piece you want to swap it with. I was half expecting to have to select the first piece and then move to and select the second piece, but this method proved to be much friendlier.


If you want to go to your ability menu from the battlefield, hit the left shoulder button. This will open your ability menu, allowing you to scroll through your abilities and select which you want to use. When youíre done, return to the battlefield by pressing the right shoulder button. If you want a description of an ability, press Y while itís selected. Underneath each ability you will see the magic cost and color(s) of magic required to cast the spell. If you donít have enough magic or donít have enough of the appropriate color, the ability will be grayed out, but once you have enough magic it will be highlighted so that you know you can use it.


Abilities have a wide range of effects, including dealing damage to an opponent, restoring HP, and giving you an extra turn. Each character will have unique abilities and youíll gain all new abilities as you level up.


Players will have to use a lot of strategy to play and adapt to new enemy fighting styles. Do you go for skulls and a quick kill? Do you go for magic of your color to take advantage of your abilities? Should you go for magic of your enemy's color to prevent them from using magic against you? Itís important to be smart and think ahead so you donít give your enemy an advantage. You wouldnít want to set them up for a devastating move against you!


When a battle ends youíll gain experience and gold, including bonus experience and gold if you win and extra based on what you picked up during your battle. If you leveled up during battle, you'll be prompted to do so at this time, which Iíll go into more detail about later.


Equipment may have a major effect on battle. For example, an enemy may be wearing an item that increases the damage they deal against you or decreases all damage dealt to them. Another enemy may wear equipment that increases their starting mana. During a battle you can always check to see what an enemy is wearing if youíre curious. Itís often helpful to know what youíre up against. Make sure to check out the shops regularly so that you can pick up the best equipment, and make sure to pick up plenty of gold during combat so you can make purchases.


If all of the available moves are gone, you suffer from the infamous mana drain! The board re-shuffles and you and your opponent lose all MP, which can be a huge pain or a lifesaver depending on the situation. If you get stuck, just wait and the game will give you some hints. The suggested moves arenít always the best, so I suggest you think about it before you do what they say, but itís nice for those times when you canít find anything else to do! The game isnít timed, though, so feel free to take your time and spend a while strategizing.


When you level up you gain points to distribute among your stats to increase them. Stats include battle, cunning, earth, fire, water, and air. Increasing one of the four elements increases your max MP of that color as well as how much MP you gain from swapping gems of that color. Cunning increases your rewards, battle increases the damage you dish out, and morale increases your HP.


Your stats also come into play and influence the course of combat. These stats will determine how much health and MP you have, how frequently you gain random turns, your starting MP in battle, who gets the first turn in battle, how much magic you receive from swapping gems, how great of a reward you earn from winning a battle, and much more! This makes leveling up your stats and distributing points wisely very important. Once again, I want to stress the high level of customization and strategy in this game, which is exceptionally deep for a puzzle game.


There are many different enemy types, including rats, skeletons, orcs, zombies, thieves, bats, and other traditional RPG foes. Each enemy type has unique abilities, such as the skeleton's ability to transform all skulls to +5 skulls and the thiefís ability to steal your gold. There are also challenging bosses and enemies with unique equipment that makes them exceptionally tough!


The game features a fairly large map with various locations. If there is a Red Ď!í above a location, then thereís an important storyline quest there waiting for you. Of course, you donít have to rush because you can normally take your time to explore and fight enemies. Sparkling locations mean they have something there for you to do in order to finish a quest. A location with a green Ď!í above it has a quest there for you, although not related to the main story. Enemies will pop up throughout the map along your way, but many of them can be avoided if you just take an alternate route to your destination. To travel from location to location, simply move your analog stick and press ĎAí on the location you want to travel to.


There are many side quests for you to embark on during your adventure, and theyíll come up at various cities throughout the game. These quests will award you with gold, experience, and items. Of course, you donít have to do any of them, but itís a great way to get some extra experience and build up your character. Some of these quests have level requirements that you must meet before you start, so there will be quests available to you throughout the course of the game. Unfortunately, youíll find yourself having to run back and forth throughout the game on numerous fetch quests, but there are plenty of other quests that are more enjoyable to make up for it.


At the main kingdom in Bartonia, you have your Citadel where you can upgrade your character by training mounts, use runes to create magic items, learn new skills at a temple, and more!


To capture mounts you must defeat an enemy three times, then play a mini-game to capture it. This mini-game is similar to the rest of the gem swapping, but rather than battling an opponent you must clear the board. These mounts provide you with stat bonuses and allow you to skip over some enemy encounters. You can later train your mounts to improve their effectiveness. Another mini-game is associated with mount training and requires you to beat a timed game.


Once youíve built a dungeon in your Citadel, you can capture enemies. If you have a Mage Tower you can also learn spells from enemies that youíve captured. To do this, you must complete a mini-game where you swap gems in order to achieve a goal of reaching a certain amount of magic.


You can also capture entire cities, granting you a little bit of gold each month. Once youíve captured a city, you can also access your Citadel from there so you donít have to run back to Bartonia all of the time. To capture a city, you must lay siege to it and do battle with it just as you would any other enemy. Occasionally cities will rebel, but you can build Towers to decrease the chances that theyíll rebel.


In order to create magical items, you must gather runes that you can find at various locations across the map. While at a location you can search for a rune, and if one is there, you can battle the rune keeper in order to get your hands on the rune. Rune keepers are just like any other enemy, but they have special skills granted to them by the rune.


If you lose a battle, you can always try again. You wonít get a Ďgame overí screen. It makes the game fairly easy because you SHOULD be able to beat every battle eventually. On the other hand, some of the enemies can be tough, so even though you have unlimited chances, you may find yourself needing to level up in order to be successful. This makes the game challenging enough for the hardcore player, but still friendly enough that casual gamers will find themselves at home. Thereís also an auto-save feature so you can quit at any time without worrying about your progress.


Puzzle Quest is an addictive game thatís incredibly easy to pick up and play at any time, making it an ideal title for the handhelds that it was first released on. However, an advantage that this new version of Puzzle Quest has over its handheld counterparts is the fact that youíre no longer limited to such a small screen. Now you can clearly see and identify all of the gems on the battlefield, which was fairly difficult to do before. The Nintendo DS version also presented some unique flaws that gamers will no longer have to worry about on Xbox 360. While practical uses for the second screen are found in many games, in Puzzle Quest it simply made it more difficult to keep track of what was going on. Important information is displayed on both screens, so itís important, but tough, to keep an eye on both. The other major issue with the DS was that the stylus was used as a gem selector. Of course, this approach seems totally natural, but it ends up causing a lot of frustration because the gems are so small that itís too easy to accidentally select the wrong one, which can ruin an entire battle. Other advantages of the Xbox 360 version are that it features new achievements, the ability to battle it out against your friends on Xbox Live, and leaderboards for top scorers.


The RPG depth makes Puzzle Quest a great game for hardcore gamers. However, the familiar puzzle-style gameplay combined with the friendly tutorial, the convenient auto-save feature, and several different modes of play make it a game that will also appeal to casual gamers. Itís easy to pick up and play for a short session, but will likely keep you occupied for many, many hours! Itís now available on virtually every platform, so itís open for everyone. On Xbox 360, Puzzle Quest costs a mere 1200 Microsoft Points. Thatís not horribly expensive considering 1000 points is only $12.50. Itís also a small, quick download, so you can be playing in no time!


The graphics of Puzzle Quest arenít going to ďwowĒ anybody, but still do the job that they need to do. Character designs are solid, but there are no animations and very little of the environment is seen aside from the world map. The music fairs a bit better, with a variety of medieval tracks that bring the world of Puzzle Quest to life!


There are plenty of reasons to keep on playing Puzzle Quest even after youíve beaten it the first time! Not only is Puzzle Quest a lengthy adventure, but you can play along with a friend on Live and battle it out, go for a quick fight with Instant Action, or play a customized battle and Choose Your Opponent. Not to mention gamers may want to toy with the various difficulty and time settings for the game if you want a new challenge.


While I really enjoyed Puzzle Quest the first time around, Iím enjoying it even more on the Xbox 360! If you havenít given it a try yet, I highly suggest you do. As I mentioned before, the game is absolutely perfect for both hardcore and casual gamers, so everyone should at least download the demo from Live and give it a whirl.


Final Grade: 87%




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