Originally released back in 2007 for the Nintendo DS, Puzzle Quest was something of a surprise hit. Expertly blending the tile-matching mechanics of Bejeweled with more traditional RPG mechanics like turn-based battles, you could almost argue that it pioneered a completely new sub-genre. Of course, in the years following its release, the genre has evolved thanks to multiple spin-off titles and an avalanche of mobile games presenting their own take on the ‘match-three RPG’ premise.
So how does the original hold up in 2019? Quite well, as a matter of fact. Relaunching in remastered form as Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns, the game has mostly stood the test of time as far as gameplay is concerned, with all special abilities and chain combos present and correct – though there are a few concerns as far as its overall presentation goes.
If you’re completely new to the franchise, there’s no better place to start than right at the beginning. Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns initially gives you the option to choose between 13 classes, each of which offers several characters to choose from, and your choice ultimately determines what kind of abilities you’ll be endowed with, along with the game's overall difficulty. It’s not massively important which class you go for here, but it’s important to take note that if you do wish to change at any point, the quest will effectively reset.
The game kicks off in the city of Bartonia, where you can visit the shop to purchase armour and upgrades, discover rumours at the local tavern (at a price), and even fortify the city with statues, towers and stables. When you’re ready to proceed with the adventure, you can take on new quests and head out into the world. All of this is presented in a kind of ‘visual novel’ format that works well enough for the most part, but the visuals – particularly character models and backgrounds – are slightly lacking in some areas (having said that though, anyone worried about the text looking too small on the Switch Lite’s screen needn’t worry – it’s more than functional on both members of the Switch family of consoles).
Of course, the meat of the game is in the battle system itself. Laid out in a typical ‘match-three’ grid format, there are multiple different tiles to target depending on what your strategy is. If you want to deal direct damage to your opponent, you’ll want to hone in on the skulls scattered amongst the grid. Matching 3 together will knock 4 HP off your enemy’s health bar, though focusing on this method alone is long-winded and not particularly effective. The coloured tiles contribute energy that can be used toward your special abilities, some of which can damage your opponent, and others granting you various defensive capabilities and buffs. Combining both the direct attacks via the skulls alongside your special abilities is key to winning each battle, but of course, you’ll also need to study the board and plan your moves in order to score effective chain combos.
It may all sound a bit dull on paper, but once you get into it, the battles in Puzzle Quest are engaging and – at times – genuinely thrilling. There’s a real sense of tension as you work out how best to arm yourself with the best resources whilst simultaneously dealing damage to your opponent. Similarly, the feeling of crushing disappointment as your enemy manages to chain together a massive combo that you somehow missed is devastating. Although, of course, you’ll often have no idea of which tiles will appear on the screen next, so luck will quite frequently play a big part.
Despite the obvious drawbacks regarding the game’s overall presentation, having a match-three game in 2019 that isn’t completely riddled with microtransactions and limitations is remarkably refreshing. So many modern games in the genre rely far too much on keeping the player invested with rewards and incentives, but Puzzle Quest lets the gameplay speak for itself, which is wonderful. Much like on the DS, it feels like it was made for the Switch, with its battle system perfectly curated for on-the-go play. We wish the accompanying storyline was perhaps a bit more involving, as it’s tempting to skip right past it in order to get to the next battle, but it holds up relatively well regardless.
More than a decade after its initial release, Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns is a worthy upgrade of a solid match-three RPG. It adds new quests and new classes for both veterans and newcomers to enjoy, and manages to resist the ‘freemium’ business model that plagues a lot of games in the genre these days. It falls down a bit on graphics and presentation, with the artwork particularly showing its age, but if you’re after a surprisingly deep puzzle adventure to get lost in, then look no further.