Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A puzzling quest

A few short months ago I downloaded a game onto my Xbox 360 called Puzzle Quest. I had seen it out for the Nintendo DS some time prior to that, but the price of the Xbox version was the contributing factor in my purchase decision as it was roughly half of the DS version and had better graphics (lacking the portability, naturally). For the uninitiated, Puzzle Quest combines the item collecting, stat building, and storyline of a Dungeons & Dragons style role-playing game (RPG) with the gameplay of a Bejeweled-styled puzzle game. This combination is interesting, but the game has flaws that hurt the experience considerably.

(Though my English teachers would cringe at the following paragraphs, I have replaced the non-descriptive "one" for the inclusive "you" in order to give the article a more conversational tone. I am not being graded on this (I don't think), so I believe it is safe to do so.)

As far as the puzzle game goes, it is almost a complete rip-off of Bejeweled - you merely switch tiles (or "gems") two at a time until you line up three or more of the same kind, then the line of gems disappears and new ones drop from the top of the screen. Unlike Bejeweled, however, the gems give you different effects, from earning gold and experience to gaining a supply of mana (magic power) that you can use to cast spells in your favor, giving the gameplay far more variety.

As an RPG, this is pretty standard fare. You pick a character, class, and sex at the beginning of the game, and build on that. Your character is, of course, the one chosen to rid the land of monsters and save the kingdom. As you advance through the game, hints of a larger cliché- oops, I mean conspiracy arise, forcing you to travel to the outlying lands. Character management is fairly intuitive to anyone who has played an RPG before, but newcomers shouldn't be overwhelmed either. When you earn so much experience, you level your character up, which allows you to use stronger attacks and better equipment when fighting your monstrous foes. Eventually, by building a fortress you are able to capture creatures to learn their spells or to train them as mounts, which gives you extra advantages in battle. Along the way your character will encounter others that will want to join your group, and they will give you additional stats in battle depending on the creatures you face. There is also a siege system where you can take control of the various cities on the map for extra gold when you pass through them, and you can use gold to develop better skills, build your fortress, and buy better equipment.

Now, for the flaws: Go back and read the last two paragraphs, and understand that all of this is WORTHLESS. In regards to the puzzle aspect of the game, you take turns with the computer. Inevitably your turn will involve merely matching up three tiles and then letting the computer take its turn. Unfortunately, once the gems disappear a much better set falls into place for the computer, which ultimately leads to extra turns. The computer occasionally makes mistakes as if to say, "Hey, look! I made a mistake," just so that you can forgive it when it takes 10 turns in a row and half of your life bar before you even get to play. I am not exaggerating: my roommate can attest to this phenomenon. Later on, you will get "wild card" pieces falling when you perform a move (this is supposed to help you), but most of the time it just gives the computer an edge. Another note here, the computer A.I. has the irritating, almost psychic habit of knowing where all of the extra turns and skull gems (the way you inflict/take damage) are going to fall from the top of the screen (or they just appear when the computer makes its move, whichever is worse). The only way stop it from taking unfair advantage is to use the "stun" move which costs it a turn, but you need to wait a few turns for that to recharge AND you have to have the right amount of mana. From an RPG standpoint, leveling up your character does you no good, because the enemies scale to match your level. While this should be challenging to the gameplay, enemies respawn on the map at a phenomenal rate, making a simple trip an hours-long ordeal. A creature that your character takes on at level 1 is just as difficult to defeat when you're level 40 and have all sorts of powerful equipment enhancing your character. What's worse, tougher monsters have an annoying habit of resisting spells, which means you can't develop a strategy by the end of the game because none of your spells work (oh yes, and later level monsters always have significantly more vitality points than you).

All in all, the game's concept is amazing, but the execution ruins it for me. It seems pretty unbalanced from the viewpoint that winning is just random chance no matter how good your character is. It makes what could have been a truly great game very mediocre.

Play a demo if you must, but pass on the purchase.
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