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Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (PSP)

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1 Review

Genre: Puzzle / Published by D3 Publisher

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      03.01.2008 01:55
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      A truly original puzzle concept, becoming Bejeweled For Nerds.

      *For the DS*

      I wanted to play this game as soon as I heard about it, and I wasn't let down; it's really fun and addictive. But it's severely flawed, to the point that it could turn a lot of people off to it. Still, it stands as a shining example of the kinds of cool directions in which developers can take the 'puzzle' theme.

      So here's the game: Over and over I've heard Puzzle Quest referred to as a "Bejeweled RPG." Well, I've never played Bejeweled, so I can't say much more about that, but I can attempt to describe the game. You play on an 8x8 grid made up of several different types of stones. You and your opponent take turns moving the stones to line up 3 or more of the same type. 3 is the minimum number of stones to line up, but lining up 4 or 5 will grant you an extra turn and other bonuses. You then receive particular benefits based on the type of stone you've aligned; colored orbs give you mana to cast spells, stars give you experience to gain levels and become more powerful, coins give you more money, and skulls deal damage to your opponents. There are also occasional "wild cards," which can basically be used to line up mana orbs and multiply the reward gained by a certain number. The objective is, of course, to drop your enemy's health to zero either by lining up skulls or by casting damage-dealing spells at them. Your character will have a different arsenal of spells depending on which of four character classes you have chosen in the beginning. It all works really well, and is a cool take on RPG battling. Also, there is a whole lot of content in the game. There are variations in the gameplay when you decide to start learning your enemies' spells or forging new equipment for yourself, and it's all pretty fun. Also, the game is fairly expansive, so you're in for a long journey.
      Unfortunately, the game comes with no AI. Well, what's that mean? Although the term AI sees a lot of abuse in modern video game language, what it's supposed to refer to is computers which essentially "think" by adapting to new input. In video game terms, this would mean an enemy who comes to learn your playing style, and adapts itself to take advantage of the weaknesses in your technique. Puzzle Quest's enemies are essentially the opposite of this; they take random moves or cast a random spell most turns, except when presented with a four-of-a-kind move or a "wildcard," which it generally prioritizes above skulls, which are in turn generally prioritized above other stones and spells. The main problems with this are a) that the computer will often pass up opportunities to do damage to you because it sees a wildcard, and b) that the computer uses no logic in deciding when and how to use its own arsenal of magic. Your enemies will therefore frequently use spells against you which empty your mana reserves when your reserves were ALREADY empty to begin with, or will use spells which deal damage based on the number of yellow stones on the board for example when there are NO yellow stones on the board to use, hence you will be unaffected by their random flailings. In other words, the computer is completely incapable of actually playing the game, and basically relies on luck. And that's where the game gets frustrating.

      I've seen a lot of people complain that the AI is too good in Puzzle Quest, or that the computer cheats, and I can't help but laugh. I happen to know that the game has no AI, and no it does not cheat. However, there will be times when the computer gets 8 turns in a row and devastates you and you just feel like you're being taken advantage of. This is due to the fact that Puzzle Quest is extremely luck-based. Every time stones are lined up on the board, they disappear, and new stones fall from above to replace them. Sometimes these stones will fall in such a way that it lines up MORE stones, and then the stones which replace them will line up MORE stones, creating a cascade effect. People complain that this happens more to the computer than to the player, but it simply isn't true; if you keep a tally of how often the computer gets lucky and how often the player gets lucky, it comes up completely even. But people still feel the need to make excuses for losing, and frankly I can't blame them. I've gotten extremely frustrated with the game myself, after losing long battles due to a stint of monumentally bad luck. Coupled with the fact that the computer is incapable of thinking and relies on such luck to win, it is very easy to get angry with this game.
      The difficulty scaling also needs to be addressed. Early on in the game, some battles (particularly the optional ones) just seem really difficult. However, depending on your chosen class and how you sculpt your character, there is a great chance that by the time you've finished 10% of the game, you'll be essentially indestructible. This was certainly true of my knight, who became an unkillable god after struggling through the beginning, and the other 90% of the game was so easy I often wondered why I kept playing. I would wander into battles and just connect random dots, like the computer does, and still win due to my insane battle prowess. However, even though I destroyed the boss of the game without so much as breaking a sweat, there is one "easy" enemy in particular who can kill me in a single move, due to some funky spell descriptions: some spells will deal damage, then will have the effect for example of creating a new skull stone on the board for every few damage points dealt. One such move in particular, Death Gaze, knocks off half of your health and then creates a skull for every 3 damage points done. At endgame I had well over 300 hitpoints, and so the spell would cut my health in half and then fill the entire board with skulls, which would create a chain reaction of damage which resulted in an instant kill against me. And again, this is against an "easy" early-game enemy. Interesting, no? Perhaps you can see why this game would be considered frustrating at certain moments.

      It should be clear at this point that the game is neither a real brain-puzzler nor fair. It's pretty long, and can feel very very monotonous. Although there is a "story" in the game, it's extremely forgettable. Also, the gameplay graphics are not particularly attractive (They look good on the PC, but they don't scale down very well). Music isn't bad, but it sorely lacks in variety. So why does this game deserve an 8/10? The answer is because despite the game's shortcomings, neither my girlfriend nor I nor my friends to whom I've introduced the game can seem to put it down, and we actually get together and talk about it like little nerdlings when we get the chance. There's no logic behind it. We just all really like the game for some reason. And look around at the other reviews - we aren't alone. If you're into a variation on the theme of RPGs or puzzle games, give Puzzle Quest a shot. Chances are, it'll have the same effect on you that it's had on us.

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