Back in 2007, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords on Nintendo DS was an innovative blend of match-3 and RPG mechanics which created an entirely new take on the puzzle genre and went on to influence a swathe of hybrids in a similar vein. Publishers D3 Go! have now announced that original developer Infinity Plus 2 is bringing a 1080p remaster with new content to Switch on 19th September in the form of Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns, and anyone who enjoys stretching the ol' grey matter and matching three gems together should be very excited indeed.
As you can see from the trailer above, you explore the kingdom of Etheria making friends (and enemies) along the way. In combat (hey, relationships can go sour fast!) match-3 mechanics are used to gain mana and battle as one of a range of classes, and this remaster brings a clutch of new quests, spells, classes and more to Switch, cleaning up the original game with some high-definition 2019 polish.
We recently had the chance to ask Puzzle Quest creator Steve Fawkner about the new game, the history behind it and the challenges of updating the DS original for a modern audience on Switch.
NL: There’ll be plenty of Switch owners who played the original Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords on Nintendo DS or one of the home console ports, but there’ll also be some coming to the series for the first time. Tell us a little about the game and what makes it unique.
Steve Fawkner, Puzzle Quest creator: Puzzle Quest was the original mashup of a match-3 puzzle with an RPG, and I still feel it still has a lovely balance between the puzzle and RPG gameplay. Whether you’re moving through the world on a quest, chatting with allies, or fighting enemies in puzzle-battles, the gameplay moves nice and smoothly between the RPG and puzzle elements. I’ve always felt the secret sauce of the game wasn’t so much that it was a mashup, but rather that it was a puzzle AND an RPG in a single box. You had all the epic quests, hero advancement and customization (even mounts!), NPCs and conversations you’d expect in an RPG, but alongside that there is an incredibly simple and deep match-3 puzzle where you fight your battles, craft weapons, capture enemies, and learn spells.
The fusion of match-3 puzzle mechanics with elements from tactics and RPG games felt remarkably fresh back in 2007. Originally, how did you hit upon combining these two genres?
I’m a huge RPG fan, but I also enjoy many other genres of games. One that I had recently discovered in 2005 when we started Puzzle Quest was Bejeweled – the classic match-3 I’m sure we’ve all played by now! I’d just been working on turn-based strategy and RTS games for the last 15 years at that point, so I was hungry to try something new. I really just took 2 genres I enjoyed and try to glue them together with some mechanics that were inspired by Magic: The Gathering. Within a couple of weeks, we had a prototype, and we knew it was going to be fun.
Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns is launching exclusively on Switch. How long has the game been in development? What’s behind the decision to focus on Nintendo’s console?
We’ve been working on this version for almost a year, and it’s been built from the ground up. It’s still the same Puzzle Quest we know and love, but we’ve rebuilt all the screens to bring the experience up to a standard expected by gamers today. The Nintendo Switch is a great choice for Puzzle Quest – the combination of touch screen and joy-con style inputs works really well (we support both!), but more importantly this has always been a game you can snack on for five minutes, or dive into for five hours, and the unique portability of the Switch lends itself to those varied play patterns really well.
Despite Puzzle Quest appearing on many other platforms, in our minds it feels ‘at home’ on the DS as a touchscreen puzzler. How are you translating and updating the core experience in The Legend Returns for Switch?
I agree! Nintendo DS is where all of Puzzle Quest’s success began, so it feels like home to us too.
We’ve been very careful not to break the feeling of the original game, so it contains all the same features and quests as the first version, but also includes the first expansion, Revenge of the Plaguelord, which was not released on DS, and a whole new expansion, Attack of the Golem Lord, written specifically for this release. Pair that with a whole new bunch of Hero Classes, and you’ve got tons of new content.
We didn’t want to stop with content though, so we went through and reworked every screen in the game with new art and layouts to make it the best experience possible. The original Puzzle Quest game is showing its age a little these days, but Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns is an absolute joy to play.
Will The Legend Returns have any new content or make use of Switch’s unique features?
As mentioned previously, we have 2 expansions never seen before on Nintendo Switch – in fact the Attack of the Golem Lord expansion was written specifically for this release! There are some great new Hero Classes including the Blood Mage and the Paladin, lots of new Enemies and Quests, and a ton of powerful new Magic Items to collect.
As far as Switch features go, we concentrated on what we felt was the core of the Switch – seamless movement between touch screen and joy-con input, and local multiplayer support for when you just need to prove you’re better at smashing match-3 puzzles than your friends!
What would you say has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced over the course of developing the game?
Historically, the biggest challenge we had was getting a publisher for the game. It was quite a new concept back in 2006 and 2007 when we were working on it, and a lot of publishers thought it was a bit too risky. Fortunately, the awesome team at D3 Publisher (which now goes by D3 Go!) stepped up and took a chance with it, and Puzzle Quest (in all its many forms) has been growing ever since.
As for challenges in Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns itself, I think getting the game to work seamlessly with both touch screen and joy-con, so you could move between them at will, was a surprising technical hurdle. We felt it was important to the game though, so we spent a long time reworking our input systems to handle it.
The game spawned sequels that built upon the concept of the original. Was it always the plan to remaster the first game rather than Galactrix or Puzzle Quest 2?
I wouldn’t say we had a long-term plan to specifically remaster the first game, but when the opportunity to work on Switch came up, remastering the first game felt like a natural choice. I still feel it has the best balance of puzzle and RPG out of any of the sequels. That kind of synergy is timeless, and if you can just tweak the appearance and usability to meet modern standards of gameplay, I feel that a whole new generation of people will find something here to love.
Puzzle Quest is set in the larger Warlords RPG universe. We’ve seen some classics of the genre return on Switch, with the console becoming something of a haven for remasters and rereleases - are there any plans to bring the Warlords series or other Puzzle Quest games to the system?
We don’t have anything to announce at the moment about other Puzzle Quest games or Warlords games coming to the Switch, but I can say that the team here enjoyed working on the Nintendo Switch immensely (and still do, with our current F2P title Gems of War).
We’ll definitely be sitting here, with our fingers crossed, hoping that Puzzle Quest finds its audience again. And if it does, I think we’d relish the opportunity to bring some of our other titles up-to-date with a really strong remastering on Nintendo Switch, like we’ve done with Puzzle Quest: The Legend Returns.
Finally, are there any Switch games the team has been particularly enjoying recently?
Personally, I’ve been playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses every night for weeks (as have a lot of the team here), although Diablo 3 and Carcassonne are my most-played games on Switch. Other notable favorites in the office right now are Celeste, Pokemon: Let’s Go, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Dragon Quest Builders 2, Hyrule Warriors, and Hollow Knight.
Our thanks to Steve for taking the time to answer our questions. Have you played the Nintendo DS original? Intrigued by this Switch remake? The Switch has some absolutely cracking puzzlers already, but if this is as half as good as the original game, we're certain once again to lose many hours to Puzzle Quest when it launches on 19th September. Let us know if you're in the same boat below.