I don’t get the whole “matching” shtick. OK, maybe that’s an understatement because I can match socks, and wearing a pair is a must if you wish to leave the house. What doesn’t make sense to me is how millions of people enjoy matching the same few colors ad nauseum and the game not taking the gamer anywhere. The original Puzzle Quest took the matching genre in a natural progression of what gamers have already seen. Collecting gems allowed gamers to use skills to manipulate and damage their opponents. It was fun. And it had gamers dreaming of gems falling from the sky. Several years later, Puzzle Quest 2 is finally in gamers’ hot little hands.
Puzzle Quest 2 follows a character of your creation from one of four classes: assassin, barbarian, sorcerer and templar. This character goes to a snowy town in the middle of nowhere to investigate a tower rumored to be teeming with evil — or at least a good place to start an adventurous career. However, when your silent protagonist arrives in town, it is under siege. So he quickly saves the village and begins his descent.
On the surface, the game doesn’t add anything new to the universe it inhabits. The lack of connectivity with all of the townsfolk, a tavern to listen to gossip and the hero’s personality are missed. However, there is the welcome inclusion of descriptions of certain locales and monsters. It adds some flavor to the game’s world. I just wish the descriptions were longer and more frequent.
Puzzle Quest 2 is ultimately the same game fans have known and loved for the past few years. Players search for matches of gems, hoping for four or five in a row for a simple extra turn. What you have in your reserves influences what skills are available, along with the damage-dealing skulls. Your character’s stats influence how quickly a reserve fills. High strength fills red mana quickly, while green mana responds well to stamina.
Certain classes favor different stats as well as different weapons. Barbarians are weapon experts and the only ones who can equip the strongest weapons. Templars are meant to outlive the enemy and can equip potent armor. Assassins are meant to subtly take out the opponent with daggers, while sorcerers can equip magic potions that can augment their matching. But there is nothing stopping you from mixing and matching things. For example, my favorite setup is to have my sorcerer equipped with a poisonous dagger and a potion that augments the red mana. Ultimately, whichever character’s health reaches 0 first loses.
With this in mind, this is the same game as before. However, it’s been refined to a greater extent. Stat points actually matter. Having a strategy that works for you and the situation you’re in is paramount. There are different minigames that require you to focus your energies in different paths. However, the gems that fall down are still random. After 30 minutes, I felt like a very particular cartoon character well-known for saying: “Whoa! I didn’t see that one coming!” I found it difficult to keep track of the various events.
Puzzle Quest 2 controls perfectly. Moving the cursor around using the left analog stick is a cinch as the cursor is perfectly visible on screen. You just “click” on a gem using the A button and move in the desired matching position. This step can be skipped pushing the right analog stick around. Selecting spells/abilities/weapons is also simple: By pressing the LT button, you can select the proper ability. The RT button will take you to the opponent side of things so you can better understand him.
Locating a battle is rather simple as well. Puzzle Quest 2 physically lays out each little section of the game’s world. It has these hotspots where you can move from one section to another and interact with people to shop and to initiate sidequests. I like this much better than the old map system as it feels like you’re actually exploring a town. What I don’t like is that the game constantly holds your hand in finding the main quest as it’ll automatically pop your cursor to the next spot to take you there. You then have to manually move it over to where you want it to be. Plus, I highly dislike the fact that there is no real reward for venturing off the beaten track. Any sub-bosses you have to fight for a sidequest will only pop-up when the quest is active. So there is no way to “save” yourself some time.
Graphically, Puzzle Quest 2 is pleasant to look at. Instead of a comic-book cartoon-like style, it’s more realistic. It’s obviously a few steps up in resolution over the original. Like the original, it still moves around rather smoothly. Gems sparkle around the screen, waiting to be picked. Gold dust sparkles to show the proper direction. Awesomely drawn portraits depict monsters and characters with a sense of personality. The only problem with it is that choosing the proper skill can be lost in the gleaming choices.
The audio in the game is also pleasant. The gems disappear with a sparkly sound, swords clash downwards and magic potions lend the game a mysterious feel. Music is present and downright ambient. It is nice to chill out to at the end of the day. However, as a whole, the audio is completely forgettable. As such, I tended to drown it out with music I had burned onto the hard drive.
When one looks at Puzzle Quest 2 as a whole, it isn’t much different than its predecessor. This is one of its strengths: It is the same game dancing to different tunes at times. And it can easily be considered a success due to the simple fact that it causes me to dream of gems falling from the sky.
For $15, or 1200 Microsoft points, it is a lot of fun. It rivals its older sibling in overall level of enjoyment. Folks who had a blast with the original will probably love Puzzle Quest 2. Those who felt alienated by the first game will probably not find much enjoyment in this installment. If in doubt, there is a decent size demo available to play. Who knew matching could be so much fun? Now if only finding a pair of socks was this easy.