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Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Score: 76%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: D3
Developer: Infinite Interactive
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Puzzle/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords has popped up on just about every system out there. The first thing people will tell you is that it's Bejeweled with magic and armor. And you know what, that's pretty much true, but turns out it's a pretty good formula. None of the versions really seem to differ from each other, so chances are now you can pick it up for your favorite system without worrying too much about missing anything.

Well, in theory, you shouldn't have to worry about which version you play. On the PS2, Puzzle Quest has one major drawback: it's almost impossible to read the text small symbols in the game unless you're using component cables because it's just so tiny and fuzzy. I'm willing to bet most people with a PS2 don't have this kind of setup. Even the PS3 makes you buy these high definition cables separately. It really does warrant a warning of some kind on the box.

Even after you get to the point where you can actually see the game, Puzzle Quest doesn't do much to impress. Of course, you've got a bunch of colorful gems and symbols to match up - it's a puzzle game. I can't really start a debate on how good looking a bunch of gem icons are, but when you see these types of games on the console, usually there's some kind of shine or sparkle animation to them at least. To the game's credit, when you cast spells or match up attack spells, there are some fairly flashy effects. Vibration adds an extra kick to things too. There is some nice anime-style artwork for character portraits and limited cut scenes, but beyond this, there's not much going on.

One big problem is that you might have trouble figuring out what happened when you were attacked or when you attack an enemy. A simple system using red numbers for hit point loss and green numbers for gain is one of the typical ways in which RPGs handle this problem, and that's what you'll see here. But with Puzzle Quest, things happen so quickly that if you aren't keeping mental tabs of your enemy's and your stats, you'll often be lost. On top of this, you probably have to use the help menus quite often in order to decipher anything on the screen that isn't a number. Even the turn status isn't very intuitive: there's a small, unassuming ball that glows closer to either you or your opponent. With the character portraits being fairly large on screen, you would think that it would highlight those or put a glow somewhere closer to them.

There is a limited song selection that repeats during pretty much every fight. They are a nice group of songs with soft flute sounds and an old world sound to them. But it's still only a few songs and a little snooze-inducing after a while. It's identical to the DS version of the game, so it's probably identical across all platforms. Though there is some voice acting during the opening cut scene, this is just a guy reading text for you while you watch a picture pan by - really nothing exciting. The sound effects for matching gems and casting spells work pretty well to make the game a bit more exciting. Unfortunately there aren't any sound options if you get tired of the music and need to adjust sound levels.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is your average matching puzzle game with an RPG overlaid on top. Your character embarks on various quests, and when you encounter an enemy, fights are conducted with a gem-matching puzzle game. Hence the puzzle and the quest. And the review is over, goodnight folks!

Alright, so it's a simple idea, but it is fun and addictive, as most puzzle games are. You need some kind of motivation to play basically the same matching game over and over, whether it be high scores or ranking status of some kind, there's always a carrot on the end of the stick. Puzzle Quest gives you an RPG and a story to work your way through as motivation. You can earn money to buy new armor, weapons, mounts, and other items. These items generally serve to make your attacks stronger and help you defend against enemy attacks, though there are some more advanced perks to some items in the game.

When you start the game, you can choose from several classes including Knight, Druid, Warrior, and Wizard. Each class has certain unique spells and advantages. Within each class there are several avatars to choose from. They all look pretty unique, with younger and older characters and unique costumes. This might lead you to believe that you'll get different storylines depending on who you choose. Unfortunately there is only one story for the game, cutting down replay value pretty significantly.

You might be wondering just how you run a fight with a puzzle game. When you match a set of skulls, you attack the enemy, and vice versa. When you can't match skulls, you can match colored gems and bank mana, which will allow you to launch offensive or defensive spells. Some spells have extra effects, such as the ability to knock your opponent out of a turn, allowing you to get a little further ahead. Money and experience can be obtained by matching the required icons, though in bigger fights, you may not have a chance to go for such extraneous items.

The multiplayer option works well, though once again you run into the problem of not being able to tell what happened to whom. The cursor that controls gem selection remains the same color, you just have to look for that inconspicuous glowing thing to tell who's turn it is. Also, you run into the problem of unbalanced matches. Unless you have a friend who spends a relatively equal amount of time building a character on your console as you, you'll probably have to make a couple of dummy characters that are at the same level in order to have a balanced match. As far as other gameplay options, Puzzle Quest has a ton. If you don't want to bother with story or items and just want to jump in, you can choose Instant Action. During Quest mode itself, there are also plenty of things to do. You can siege castles, follow quests, or just clear out the random monsters that appear on the road.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is not particularly hard. Since you can level your character and buy new equipment, you can always come back to tough opponents later. You get experience and money for just about everything, even losing battles, so it's kind of hard not to advance.

There are some limited combinations you can set up in order to get ahead, but the game relies a lot on the luck of the gems and items dropped. When you have an opponent changing the playing field on every other turn, it can be hard to plan for anything anyway. One thing that does ease the pressure is the lack of a timer, so you are able to scan for available moves at your leisure. That's something you need since one thing you'll probably be doing is rereading spell descriptions several times anyway.

Game Mechanics:
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords doesn't take a whole lot of time to master. You swap gems and items around in a grid to make combinations of 3 or more. There are no diagonal matches. The limitation comes in with the many different types of items you have to match up. Choosing to match only gems that you need for spells may allow your opponent to match gems that they need, so there is always a trade-off. Equipment is passive, adding benefits such as damage increases and even damage reflection.

With all that being said, Puzzle Quest is actually pretty addictive. It just seems like the type of casual game better suited to a portable gaming system. You'd expect a lot more flash and exciting elements built in when you move to a console, but it just isn't here. Still if this is the only version you can get, it's still a pretty good puzzle game with an interesting twist.

-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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