Many of my regular readers have heard about Puzzle Quest. It's been out for a little while, and for those of you with an Xbox 360, there's a free Puzzle Quest demo available on Xbox Live Arcade. If Puzzle Quest is a game you're familiar with, consider this review a public service announcement.
Puzzle Quest, especially on the Nintendo DS, is a fantastic gift idea for the "casual gamer" in your life. While there's no shortage of high quality shooter and action games available this year, you may have noticed that there aren't all that many AAA casual titles hitting the market (Mario and Guitar Hero may be two exceptions, but good luck finding a Wii). Fortunately, the DS is one of those "toys" that the "grown ups" are really taking seriously. Now that the DS has infiltrated the pockets of the alpha-moms / casuals of the world, it's time to give them a "gateway drug" that will lead to a lifetime of role playing fun. There's no question, Puzzle Quest is fun, and it has a way of luring unsuspecting people in. If you're one of the unfortunate few hardcore gamers that haven't had a chance to play Puzzle Quest, let me run down the basics for you.
The allure: The heart of Puzzle Quest is a competitive version of Bejeweled. Puzzle Quest is a jewel-matching puzzle game, with bonuses for matching four and five-of-a-kind chains. This mechanic that makes the game accessible and familiar to a wide variety of gamers. There are "quick-play" modes and single-puzzle objective modes that are similar to other puzzle games as well.
The hook: Puzzle Quest differentiates itself from the sea of puzzle games by adding strong role-playing elements. Rather than playing a puzzle game "just to play", the player is presented with a series of goals and a (typical) storyline. Enemies have hit-points, and each type of enemy has different strengths and weaknesses. The role-playing and competitive style of play means that standard puzzle game mechanics aren't sufficient. Puzzle Quest adds one of the most intriguing elements I've seen in a puzzle game, the magic spell system. Magic is based on a "mana" system like many other role-playing games, but here, mana is gained by completing gems of a specific color. There are four gem colors, and each spell requires a set amount of mana in those various colors. As the player gains levels, more spells become available, and there are additional spells to be gained through capturing enemies. Beating enemies is a matter of managing and manipulating the Bejeweled-like board better than your opponent, and using spells to "cheat". There are several spells which force the your enemy to lose turns, do extra damage, or take away their ability to cast spells. Defeating enemies opens new areas, which in turn opens new quests, which in turn advances the story of the game. The end-boss of Puzzle Quest is suitably difficult, and while the game is long, it is also playable in 10-15 minute chunks.
I could write about Puzzle Quest for pages - but instead, I'll cut to the chase. The unique game mechanics, addictive play style, and progressive nature of Puzzle Quest make it a unique gift and a great way to introduce casual gamers to more complex genres. I highly recommend Puzzle Quest for you or anyone on your gift list.
Puzzle Quest (DS)