The only thing better than a fantasy game that combines puzzles, cards, strategy and combat is a sequel that improves on the best qualities of the original. D3Publisher’s Puzzle Quest 2 aims to be exactly that better sort of a mouse trap. The sorta-kinda sequel, the sci-fi-themed expansion Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, diverged from the road paved by the original fantasy-themed Puzzle Quest. Infinite Interactive, the creator of the first game, returns the gamer to the familiar fantasy road with Puzzle Quest 2. During GDC 2010, I had the opportunity to try the nearly finished Xbox Live Arcade version of the game.
As a tribute to traditional fantasy role-playing games, the characters I was given to choose from in the opening menu will feel familiar to many gamers: a magically potent sorcerer, a brawn-oriented barbarian, a defensively strong templar and a sly assassin. Moreover, true to the form of Puzzle Quest, the player is given the option of playing as the male or female version of each character; for instance, the male barbarian looks like a de-greened Hulk-meets-William-Wallace, and his female counterpart possesses the lips and hips of Angelina Jolie combined with the six pack and swords of Xena. Who said puzzle games don’t have sex appeal?
Overall, the graphics are much more Westernized this time around, bearing a clean and sharp Flash-like, comic-book feel. I’d go further and add that Puzzle Quest 2’s art is more impressive than its animation, but then again, the bullet points that make this game stand out is the game balance between the characters and their various skills, represented by the puzzles and how they can play out.
In Puzzle Quest 2, rather than pursuing the epic path of roaming the world in search of adventure and damsel-saving, the player spends the entire game up close and personal in the unfortunate town of Verloren, which is plagued by everything from swarms of rats to goblins and orcs. Adhering to more fantasy RPG norms, the hero is driven through this story-centered game with quests he or she attains from the exclamation point-marked townsfolk. The simple but effective voiceover work that occurs when interacting with the characters distributing your quests adds to the game’s atmosphere.
Once you’ve retrieved your quest from the townsperson, you will arrive at your first battle. In the demo, it was a swarm of rats logically titled “Rat Swarm.” The so-and-so versus so-and-so screen reminded me of a fighting game’s versus screen, but it’s part of the charm in Puzzle Quest 2.
In the field of combat, the puzzle element in its simplest form is about lining up three or more matching items to clear the line and achieve a desired result. That’s the classic puzzle formula, but of course, Puzzle Quest 2 isn’t quite as simple as that. Puzzle Quest 2 has taken the battles a bit further, giving them complexity and longevity of interest with different colored mana (magic points) and action pieces to be acquired through battle. The action pieces, shaped like gauntlets, can be used to activate weapons attacks or shield defenses, and the mana, available in five different types, serve different purposes. If skull icons are aligned, they do immediate damage. That’s all well and good, but this brutal full-on assault may not be the wisest course of action as the game progresses and your opponent’s life points rebound. Spells and weapons attacks, though less immediate, often reap greater benefits. For example: As the barbarian, your first available spell is titled “pummel,” and it’s powered by four red mana units and does a point of damage for every two red mana pieces on the board.
Upon successfully completing a quest, you get gold and items, and the avatar may level up. I didn’t play the game far enough to do so myself, but I did watch other, more skilled players make quick work of the early parts of the game and, consequently, level up quickly. When leveling up, life points increase, and the player may choose one stat to increase or gain other bonuses, such as spells and additions to your primary stats. Increasing agility increases a character’s defensive skills and also increases the odds of playing first in the untimed battle sequences, but if you’re evenly matched, the advantage may go to the one with the quickest feet.
I was generously given opportunities to gain XP and items through minigames and challenges as well as battles. The challenges often are governed by different rules, such as destroying only one set of gems or pieces, so as to keep you on your toes and make the puzzle challenging.
In Puzzle Quest 2, I realized I was given the gift of multitasking. By that I mean I was able to swap out weapons in my inventory but could utilize six at any given time. One item in each hand (such as weapons and potions) can be used in battle as can an item each for slots labeled one of the following: helm, necklace, armor and boots.
Aside from the infinite number of variations I could experience while playing through each puzzle, I suspect Puzzle Quest 2 is almost guaranteed to keep interest alive past the first play-through. Each new character or new game type (such as Story Mode, Instant Action, Tournament Mode or Multiplayer Mode) is guaranteed to keep the single-player and multiplayer experiences interesting for a long time.
Puzzle Quest 2 is definitely the true successor to Puzzle Quest, which will surely keep fans of the original satisfied, and the game is streamlined and approachable enough to add to its audience. Keep an eye out for Puzzle Quest 2, which should be available this spring.