Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords Preview
At a recent event from D3 Publisher showing off several games, I got to check out a new title called Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords for the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS. It mixes the gameplay of puzzle games like Bejewelled, the structure of 2-dimensional RPGs, and the strategy of card strategy games all together to make something that winds up being a lot more fun than it probably sounds.
At its heart, Puzzle Quest has players taking turns on a board that looks and plays much like the runaway puzzle game hit Bejewelled. But here, it's a battle. When you swap the gems around to eliminate them, the four colors of the gems - red, yellow, green, and blue - contribute to your character's four types of mana (which fuels the many spells you can also cast, much like an RPG). There are other types of items on the board, as well, including skulls which, when you line them up to eliminate them, cause direct damage to your opponent. You can gain also collect experience points and money to build your character with during the battles, but don't get too carried away because you won't be gaining mana to defeat your opponent with.
There is an actual story mode here, as you get to start a character as one of four classes and start out helping the queen of a fantasy-based kingdom keep the peace. You'll be assigned various quests which inevitably lead to battles, and that's where the puzzle portion - and the meat of the game - really begins. If you take on a Thief, he'll have specific abilities like a sneak attack that hurt you while you play, and he can even steal your own gold from you. Fighting a skeleton can be risky, because he has an ability to turn all skulls on the board into more powerful ones that do extra damage to whoever gets them.
So this goofy-sounding system actually works pretty well, and it really adds some depth to the puzzle system made so popular by the addictive puzzle game. You need to think ahead and work out where all the pieces on the board will be for the next turn so that you don't set up your opponent to pick up the colored mana he needs or deal some direct damage to you.
And the mana you gain goes to some very unique and interesting spells and abilities. There are plenty of damage spells with unique attributes (like the fire spell which costs 4 red and 4 yellow mana, but extra bonus damage is given just for having extra red mana in reserve), but then more unique ones come into play allowing new effects to help yourself or cripple your opponent.
While I didn't get the chance to really try out the customization systems, you'll eventually be able to build your own castle where you can increase your character's stats (allowing for more effective mana usage and more abilities in battles) and unlock more quests. Of course this all happens in the single player story mode, but there's also the instant action mode that skips a lot of the RPG elements and leaves the puzzle and strategy intact. There's also wireless ad-hoc battles on both the PSP and DS so you can take on your friends on the go.
I tried both versions of the game and I'm happy to say that so far, it seems like both versions play to each system's strengths. The DS uses the touch screen for moving the pieces around, while the top screen gives you information on the battle. On the PSP, that information fits nicely on the sides of the wide screen, and the D-pad controls a cursor to select gems and move around the world. Both versions are vibrant and bright, but the PSP's graphics are definitely sharper due to the higher-quality display. But either way, Puzzle Quest is shaping up to be an addictive and unique strategy/puzzle game that kids and adults will be able to enjoy. Both versions are set for release in March of 2007.