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Puzzle saga clearly takes its inspiration from the Puzzle Quest series of games available for the Nintendo DS. It blends the "match 3" elements of games like Bejewelled with traditional RPG elements such as different character classes and the ability to add new people and abilities to your party as you go along. It also has a fairly traditional RPG style-plot as you seek to deliver your land from the tyranny of an evil lord.
The action behind Puzzle Saga takes place on a battlefield. At the bottom of the screen is your army, consisting of knights, archers and other warriors. At the top of the screen sits the enemy army consisting of trolls and monsters. If you want to get to the next level, you need to wipe out the enemy before they kill you.
This is done by tapping one of your soldiers and swapping him with one next to him to create a line of three or more soldiers the same. Once three or more are matched, they will rush up the screen and fight the first soldier they come to. If they are stronger than it, they will kill it; if not, they will keep fighting it until they die, weakening the enemy as much as they can before they do.
You can inflict greater damage on enemies by creating bigger lines. The more soldiers you have in your chain, the more powerful their attack. Each class of warrior also has a number of special powers which are unlocked when you match the right number. This results in a far more powerful attack and it's a great feeling to match (say) seven similar warriors and watch as they unleash an attack that decimates your enemy's ranks.
What makes Puzzle Saga a more strategic game is that different characters have different abilities. Archers, for example, fire arrows at enemies. These inflict more damage than a standard attack from a basic soldier. Others employ magic to inflict greater damage. As such, the game becomes not just about spotting a move to make, but about spotting the move that will inflict the most damage.
Presentation in Puzzle Saga is excellent. The different characters and soldiers all look different (essential to help you spot moves quickly) and have real character. Animation is fluid and although the graphics are quite cartoon-like, they really help to draw you into the game and make you feel as though you are in the heat of battle.
The sound is really impressive. A beautiful medieval-inspired tune runs and sounds excellent and adds a huge amount of atmosphere. In game effects also add to that atmosphere, with the sound of arrows being unleashed or soldiers' weapons clashing again enhancing that sense of being in the middle of a battle. When it's in full flight, with soldiers clashing all over the place, Puzzle Saga is really noisy - just like a fighting game should be!
What really caught me out at first was the speed at which the game is played. Traditional games like this are turn-based. You make your move, it inflicts damage on your opponent, and then he makes his move. Puzzle Saga is played in real time with each side constantly matching up warriors at the same time until one of you is dead. This gives the game a far more frantic feel, as you constantly have to look for the best move and try and stay one step ahead of your enemy.
This frantic gameplay does have a slight drawback. Making a move can cause a chain reaction. Match some soldiers and they will attack and be replaced by new ones. As these new ones appear, they may themselves form up in a way which causes another line of three (or more) to be created and they will instantly attack, too. This does mean that sometimes you can feel a little superfluous as all the chain reactions play out, leaving you with nothing to do except sit and watch.
It can also cause a few frustrations trying to spot moves. You just spot a move and are about to make it when the computer performs an automated move as a result of a new chain being created. This completely alters the make-up of the board and means the move you spotted is no longer valid, so you are back to square one trying to find a new move.
Controls have been perfectly implemented and are incredibly intuitive. To move a character, all you need to do is tap the one you want to move, then tap the space you want to move him to. It's a really obvious method of control and highly responsive. This is not a game that needs complex controls and the simple, well implemented approach enhances the instant playability of the title.
For once the use of in-app purchases is reasonable. As you play, you can earn money which can then be used to upgrade your army and give them enhanced powers. If you're the impatient type then you can do this sooner by purchasing more in-game cash via the in-app system. Use of the in-app system, however, is not essential for success - it's entirely possible (albeit slower) to complete the game without any in-app purchases. I'm still not a fan of in-app purchases, but if they are going t be used, this is at least the fairest way to do it.
Puzzle Saga might not be quite as good as Puzzle Quest, simply because the narrative is not so strong. However its frantic gameplay is almost as much fun. Puzzle Saga normally sells for around 69p, although at the time of writing, it can actually be downloaded for free. Either way, you'd be hard pressed to find a better Match 3/RPG hybrid on the iPad or iPhone.
(C) copyright SWSt 2013