Platforms: PC, iPhone, DS (Played), XBLA (reviewed)
Developer: Infinite Interactive
Love it or hate it, you have to admit that Puzzle Quest is a magnificent achievement. More phenomenon than game, it successfully married two disparate genres to form an experience that could be enjoyed by literally anyone... and delivered an RPG that you could play for five minutes or entire days at a time. Square Enix, PopCap and even Infinite Interactive themselves couldn't quite replicate the addictive formula with Gyromancer and Galactrix; making many wonder whether the original's success was down to sheer luck. Lightning can't strike twice, right?
Well you've read the tagline. Thankfully, it has. Let's take a closer look at both the Puzzles and the Quest!
Deeper, Longer, Slower Puzzling
Bejeweled's Puzzle Quest's match-3 mechanic is still the driving force behind the battle system. Matching coloured gems results in a mana boost that can be used to power spells and skills, whereas matching skulls deals direct damage to the enemy. However, the experience and money has been removed in favour of an all-new experience: Action Points. Matching gauntlets cumulatively adds action points to a running total that can be drawn upon to activate your weapon of choice. I'll get into details in a second, but suffice to say that this single new mechanic completely changes the face of the game.
Equipping a massive two-handed weapon allows you to deal huge amounts of damage... but what about equipping a sword and shield to increase your defence for a short time? Or a health/mana potion to keep you fighting fit? Equipping your character with the right gear vastly increases the amount of depth that Puzzle Quest 2 brings to the table... and makes for a very different game experience. Slowly massing action points and unleashing them later in the game can turn the tide of a desperate battle, and some players will even play for gauntlets rather than skulls in order to maximise their damage later on.
However, whilst this system makes for vastly improved depth and tactical scope, it has also significantly increased the length of an average battle. The original, streamlined Puzzle Quest allowed us to play single battles while taking a loo break from work, but you probably have to take set aside a decent amount of time now (especially with one of the advanced characters that we'll cover later). Exacerbating this problem is the new 'block' mechanic that gives both you and the enemy a chance to halve any incoming damage. It's absolutely galling to carefully set up a killer combo only for your enemy to randomly nullify half of your good work!
Tighter, Diabolic, Personal Questing
Unlike the sprawling overworld map of the original, Puzzle Quest 2 adopts a Diablo-style isometric view that brings their slim universe to vivid life. New attractive artwork and a surprisingly solid story significantly beef up the roleplaying side of the package. However, the action all takes place in a selection of dungeons rather than traversing a continent and laying siege to entire cities; so whilst things feel a lot more personal, they also feel a lot less epic than before. Much like Diablo, you'll accept quests and delve into the dungeons to solve them, usually killing designated enemies and exiting via blue town portals. Whilst these dungeons are intuitive to navigate on the DS, they feel extremely clunky on an Xbox 360 controller (which frankly should've had full 1:1 movement rather than clickable hotspots).
The four new characters are a breath of fresh air. Whilst a brutal Berzerker and a tanky Templar provide some decent beginner's classes, the Sorcerer and Assassin are both great fun to use. Instead of aiming for skulls, you'll use a mix of mana and action points (hence making some tough decisions about equipped weapons and gear) to defeat your enemies. It's a different way to play- and a lot of fun for PQ veterans.
A range of minigames also flesh out the the RPG side of things. Crates can be looted, rooms can be searched, traps can be disarmed and doors can be bashed down using variations of the original match-3 game. Learning some harsh lessons from Galactrix's odious leapgate system, these minigames have a turn rather than time limit- and they're all great fun and rewarding to play in their own right. The lack of mounts and city tributes are sadly missed, though.
- It's still Puzzle Quest.
- But with a better art design and new gauntlet mechanic.
- Most of us just finished sorting our lives out after losing so much to the original!
- 'Block' mechanic makes for overlong battles. And it's annoying.
- Tighter isometric focus feels less epic than it should be
The Short Version: Puzzle Quest is back. Prepare to lose friends, ignore family, neglect pets, fail exams and get fired from work... all over again. However, the longer tactical battles and enhanced RPG elements stop it from having the same mass-market appeal as the original. Basically: if you're a fan of the Challenge of the Warlords, you'll love Puzzle Quest 2 and appreciate the little details. Newcomers will be better off with the original.