Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (Xbox 360) Review
Developer: Infinite Interactive
A young adventurer from the kingdom of Bartonia is destined to lead the battle against the evil that increasingly plagues the world of Etheria. Starting as a mere novice, players build citadels, conquer nations, battle mythical beasts and dominate all opposition – all by playing symbol-matching puzzle games!
So many hardcore gamers see casual games as gateway games – simple activities that will somehow transform ordinary people into "real gamers." They hold onto the belief that Bejeweled, Solitaire or Zuma will somehow turn their girlfriend or grandmother into a fanatical fan of first-person shooters. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is around to do the opposite. Puzzle Quest is here to bring hardcore gamers into the casual fold by wrapping a Bejeweled-like symbol-matching game in a massive role-playing game framework replete with items, experience points, forging, spells and other assorted wackiness.
The basic play in Puzzle Quest involves matching seven different symbols on the "Battle Grid," taking turns with your opponent. Match at least three of one of the four colored circles and you get mana of that type to power your spells. Match stars for extra experience. Piles of coins gain you cash, and by matching skulls you strike your opponent for damage. The first person to be reduced to zero life loses the battle.
That would be no different from myriad other two-player symbol-matching games, except for the epic-RPG setting. Rather than moving symbols, players can cast a variety of spells that do damage, transform the Battle Grid, empower or even debilitate a combatant. You can collect items that give bonuses, more starting mana or protection, and even acquire a mount to move around the world more quickly and gain a bonus spell.
There is a story: the tale of a dire invasion of the civilized lands of humans, elves and dwarfs by horrific creatures; worthy of any (slightly hackneyed) console-RPG. Players can wander the world furthering the sinister plot or pursuing side quests, conquering nations or searching out the secret hiding places of runes that allow you to forge even more powerful items. Essentially, Puzzle Quest makes a basic casual game interesting to obsessive, hard-core RPG fans by turning it into an epic game where every battle is resolved using multiplayer matching puzzles.
Some activities involve puzzle variants. After defeating three of any monster, you can imprison a monster of that type, throw it in your dungeon and research that creature's spells. The creature is captured by playing another symbol-matching mini-game that involves eliminating all of a pre-set pattern of symbols from the screen. The spell is then learned by playing another mini-game. Forging new magical items requires yet another mini-game.
Of course, the challenge of the computer foes largely depends on your relative level – how much life you have, how well you are equipped and how powerful your spells are. But you can also challenge another player over Xbox Live and pit your characters against one another, giving hardcore gamers yet another obsessive outlet for primal puzzle play.
The version of Puzzle Quest released on Xbox Live Arcade is nearly identical to the version previously released for the DS, and that's a good thing. You trade portability and touch-screen controls for the ability to lounge comfortably on the couch and play on the big screen. There are a few tweaks, such as a timer on certain spells, and it's a lot easier to play multiplayer matches. But the biggest difference is the price – at 1200 points, Puzzle Quest only costs $15 through Xbox Live Arcade, making it your best and cheapest choice for this gem.
If you love puzzle games, Puzzle Quest takes puzzling to an entirely new, hardcore level. If, as a "real" gamer, you hate puzzle games, then you should check out Puzzle Quest and see how much fun these games can be when dressed up more to your taste.