Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords - Staff Review  

A Quest Worth Fixing
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

40-60 Hours


Rating definitions 

   Developed by Infinite Interactive, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords for the PlayStation Portable is an RPG with a shallow story, minimal character development, and a handful of problems. However, it is not a standard RPG; it's a puzzle RPG, and a very addictive one at that. Puzzle Quest has an RPG foundation with a puzzle game for a battle system. This unique style and engaging gameplay allows for the game's many faults to be easily overlooked.

   The story follows a player created character in an adventure against the evil forces of Lord Bane. Given an option of Warrior, Knight, Wizard, or Druid, the player must pick a class, gender, and name for their character. None of these choices alter the story in anyway, but merely give the player a persona. The player then must complete quest after quest in order to find out what evil is causing people across the land to disappear. Throughout the quest, the character meets a handful of companions and a scattering of enemies. The companions add a little bit in terms of the overall story, but usually only if their side quests are completed. The few villains within the storyline are not well-developed; giving the gamer little motivation to defeat them other than progressing through the story. The plot as a whole is completely shallow, and most cutscenes are little more than idle chats to open up a new area and point the character in a new direction. Puzzle Quest does have two different endings, but since neither is very satisfying, it doesn't really make up for the overall lack of plot.

   If this story is so one-dimensional, why should anyone even consider Puzzle Quest? The answer is easy: the gameplay is simple, addictive, and just plain fun. All combat takes place via puzzle games. But these aren't the basic little puzzle games that can be played for free on the internet; they are puzzle games with an RPG twist. The general premise is to match up three or more items of the same kind such as gems for mana, skulls for damage, coins for gold, or purple stars for experience. Each combatant has hit points that must be taken down through spells or the direct damage caused by matching three or more skulls. Matching up one of the four colors of mana gems increases the character's mana pool in order to cast spells. These spells can range from damage dealing to curative and vary by the character's job class. Spell choices increase as the character levels up and through the capturing of enemies. After purchasing a dungeon for the character's citadel and defeating a certain enemy type a set number of times, the character is able to attempt to capture that enemy. The process of capturing involves solving a preset puzzle configuration. If the player is able to complete the puzzle, they will be able to attempt to learn spells from that enemy by completing another type of puzzle that requires a specific number of gems to be collected. The player is also able to collect runes from different areas and to forge higher quality items that that afford different advantages in combat. The depth of the puzzles helps to make up for the lack of a quality story as the focus on gameplay is key.

Why don't you work?You could have been so useful.

   The controls on the PlayStation Portable allow for adequate interaction for the majority of the game. The directional pad is used to move a cursor around to select matches in combat. The interface feels natural, but can be problematic during timed battles when the player is training a mount and needing to move the cursor across the screen to make a match. But even that is not really bad. The true problem with this version of Puzzle Quest is the bugs. The game was released with a handful of bugs that can seriously hinder gameplay. Companions that the player acquires throughout the story are supposed to have abilities that take place during combat to benefit the character. While these abilities are clearly labeled for each companion, they simply never work. While this is a clear handicap, that's not the worst problem. The game lags when certain events take place, like a spell being cast for the first time. Sometimes if too much is happening at once, the game locks up completely, requiring a restart. This can be extremely frustrating when the game locks up just after finishing a long battle. These game-breaking issues cast a dark cloud over an addictive game with tons of potential.

   Puzzle Quest is by no means an ugly game. The visuals include well-drawn characters and backgrounds, but that's about all there is. There's no animation and the characters have no movements or emotional representation. They are just still-life caricatures and there are not many of them. Variety is limited with most bosses using the same drawings as the normal enemy type. There is little inspiration. Music is a different story as it is much better. None of the tracks are awe-inspiring, but they serve their purpose as quality background music. The soundtrack gives off a medieval feel that is fitting of the overall setting of the game.

Bad Dreams You will see these in your sleep.

   In the area of challenge, Puzzle Quest does well by offering adjustable difficulty levels. Normal mode is tough, but mostly fair. There are times that the computer will get tons of good moves one right after the other. Other times everything is lined up perfectly for the player, if the player can find the matches. Some of the boss battles end up taking several tries to complete, but are manageable. The hard mode is very unforgiving with the computer taking advantage of every missed match. It is the definition of frustration. Easy mode has the computer missing obvious matches and seems to almost give matches to the player. Thankfully, the best part about the difficulty is that it can be changed at any time between battles. If a boss is too hard, then drop the difficulty down. If the game is not challenging enough, then bump it up to hard mode and prepare to cry. The game is very forgiving, when the player loses a battle, offering no negative consequences.

   Being unlike anything else on the market, Puzzle Quest is a groundbreaking game. Looking past the problems, the blending of puzzle games into an RPG works really well and offers a great deal to build off of in the future. The gameplay is fun, the controls are decent, and while the story could use some work, the game is still fun. With this much already there as a foundation to work with, there is much hope for this new genre blend to grow further. So, while Puzzle Quest wasn't a perfect start for this new game type, the addictiveness of Puzzle Quest does forecast a pleasant outlook for similar games.

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