In many cases, the idea of combining two unlike video game genres into one game can be very off-putting. The result usually consists of clunky controls, confusing gameplay, overbearing tedium, or any combination of these factors. Sometimes, however, a game comes along that finds a way to balance out the genre differences and stand above the rest. Fortunately for DSi owners, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords does exactly that.
Combining aspects of both turn-based RPGs and classic match 3 puzzle games, Puzzle Quest’s ground breaking gameplay is something that truly needs to be experienced. If you’ve ever played bejeweled, then you know exactly what to expect from the puzzle aspect of the game. And fortunately for bejeweled fans, Puzzle Quest sticks to the classic piece shifting formula rather than the new gameplay style that we saw in Bejeweled Twist.
When first starting a new game you will be given the choice to play as a Druid, Knight, Warrior or Wizard. Each of these character classes are more adapt in certain areas of battle, such as using different colored Mana or dealing more damage with physical attacks. After choosing your character, you will be immediately thrown into the story, where you can visit towns on the world map and get quests. The only quests that are available at first are those based on the story, but very soon you will be able to start taking side quests that allow for more experience building and money grabbing rather than just continuing through the plot.
The gameplay may seem a bit overwhelming at first glance, but it becomes very simple once you’ve figured out what you’re doing. The actual battles take place on an 8x8 grid of different coloured spheres. You and your opponent will take turns shifting pieces and making matches of at least three consecutive coloured spheres, and making matches will increase the amount of Mana that you have in each colour. You can also use one of your turns in order to use an attack rather than playing on the puzzle grid, with all of your available attacks listed on the left side of the screen and each requiring different amounts of Mana to perform. Making sure that you use your turns wisely in determining whether you should attack or find matches on the grid is all essential to a winning strategy.
Other pieces are also featured in the grid, including skulls that damage your opponent when matched up, purple spike balls that give you extra experience points and gold coins that increase the amount of money that you have. Experience points are used to level up your character, and at each level you are allotted a certain amount of skill points to set to different attributes of your character. The money earned in battle or by completing missions can be used to purchase new items that upgrade your stats, or you can use money to build onto your citadel. Building new additions to your citadel, such as a mage tower or a stable, allow you to forge new weapons and spells or capture and train beasts to help you fight.
Beyond the main quest, there are several other modes of play available. The first, known as Instant Action, sees you fighting against a randomly selected enemy, with the second option being very similar but with the ability to choose your opponent. This can be useful for testing out different battle strategies against different types of enemies. While neither of these two modes advance the main quest, the money and experience that you gain in them is retained by your character. Also available is a multiplayer mode that allows you to play against opponents over a wireless connection, though regrettably there's no Download Play available. It should also be noted this mode is via local wireless only, despite the official press release claiming it's playable online.
Because the entire game is played using the DSi’s touch screen, the face buttons are mostly unused. While some gamers prefer to play puzzle games like this using physical buttons rather than a touch screen, it is fortunate that the controls are sharp and precise enough to not cause problems. Accurate controls are always very important, especially when it comes to puzzle games that require precise action.
As far as visuals go, especially in the case of downloadable software, Puzzle Quest is impressive. Though the majority of gameplay takes place on the puzzle board, the world map and character sprites are all very detailed and have a hand-drawn look to them. There are no actual CGI scenes in this game — the story is told through still images of characters and blocks of dialogue — but this aesthetic fits the mood of the game and effectively adds to the whole experience. The sound quality, on the other hand, is a completely different story. The music in the game is beautiful and also perfectly fits the overall mood of the game, but everything sounds very tinny and crackles out of the DSi’s speakers. After playing for a bit, it can get somewhat distracting, and unfortunately headphones don't alleviate the problem at all.
While Puzzle Quest may be a lot of fun, it can also prove to be quite a challenge. Mastering the puzzle grid and levelling up your character is essential to playing well, but the difficulty goes beyond that. After playing only a few battles, it becomes apparent that your AI opponent is well aware of what is going to drop down once Mana spheres are removed. Not only is the AI difficult, but a lot of the time it is cheating. If you’re fine with accepting the fact that the computer will always know what’s coming next, then embracing the challenge is simply another essence of gameplay.
If you love classic puzzle action and wouldn’t mind changing things up a bit by including a fun and engaging storyline along with it, then there’s no reason not to get Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords. Boasting over 150 different missions to complete and the available multiplayer, there’s no doubt that you’ll be getting your money’s worth out of this title. With its interesting and innovative combination of puzzle and RPG elements, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.