Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Reviewed by Minna Kim Mazza
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2007-04-30 Nintendo DS Puzzle E (Everyone) D3 Publisher / Infinite Interactive

As far as highly anticipated games go, this has to be one of the top games on my list. It does not disappoint and has been growing in popularity with its unique premise. At first glance, it looks like any other puzzle game, much like a Bejeweled clone. However, once you get started, you realize this is actually an RPG, which uses the puzzle game as a battlefield to defeat your enemies.

To begin your adventure, choose "Single Player" and create a character in one of the two existing save slots. There are four classes to choose from (Druid, Knight, Warrior, Wizard), as well as four different character appearances (two male and two female per class). You can change your name, though the game will assign you a default name. Then after a little background story, you begin in the city of Bartonia.

The map interface is pretty intuitive. A red exclamation mark over a city denotes a "primary quest" that advances the storyline. A green exclamation mark denotes other quests that you can do on the side. Tap your stylus on the city to open the menu, in which you can get quests, view your inventory, visit the tavern for rumors, among other actions depending on what's available at that city or location. Tap any available location on the map to go there. Tap the hero to open the inventory and customize equipment and spells.

When you get primary quests, often there is a cut scene to your character and another, discussing the issues at hand. It's lacking some animation here, like seeing paper cutouts "talking" to each other, but the artwork is farily good, and the scenes are usually over quickly enough. Afterwards, you'll see new locations and more path options open up on the world map. You can see a nice world map here. Little sparkles denote locations which involve your quest, often resulting in a battle. Sometimes in between locations you can see monsters on the map as well. To get by them you will have to defeat them first.

The battles in this game involve playing a puzzle game against your enemy, in a turn-based fashion. Match three or more of the same color and you'll gain mana of that color. If you match four, you'll get an extra turn; match five and you'll get a wildcard gem that appears on the board, along with the extra turn to hopefully use that wildcard. Along with the different color mana (red, green, yellow, blue), there are purple gems that help you gain some experience, and skulls that will directly hit the enemy, depleting his health points. Gain enough mana, and you'll be able to cast spells that can do anything from gaining life, an extra turn, to doing direct damage to the enemy. If there are no matches on the board, the board clears and both your mana and the enemy's mana gets drained, so be careful!

You can also match piles of gold to gain some cash that you can spend on equipment or city upgrades. Building new facilities in your city opens up more options such as spell research, item forging, mount training and city sieges.

To create items you must first find runes. Runes can be found in places you have already visited and cleared of enemies, so go back to previous locations and search for runes to engage in a battle with the Runekeeper.

Spell research is also done via the puzzle board, but you can only research the spells of creatures you have captured. How do you capture a creature? Well, first you must have already fought and defeated that creature a number of times, then on a certain encounter you will have the "Capture" option. At this point, you get a different type of puzzle board that works a bit like Collapse. The goal is to clear all the icons on the puzzle field.

Once you have captured your foe, go to Bartonia and do your research. To successfully research a spell, you have to match a specific number of mana gems and scrolls (5 of a kind gives you a scroll).

Some of the creatures you capture can become your mount. When you have a mount and a stable in your city, you can train the mount to become faster. This is done by playing the puzzle battle against the mount, but with a time limit on your turns.

I am used to playing this kind of game solo, but doing this against someone changes your tactics a bit. You'll find yourself trying to think ahead more when matching gems, noting your consequences if you make a certain move. I don't always like to think that far ahead in these types of games, but in a way, it's more fun and unpredictable. Also, one thing to note is that even if you lose a battle, you still gain the experience and you can alwys try the quest again. Many quests are also repeatable, so you can keep gaining experience and money to your heart's content with little consequence.

There are several RPG elements in the game: equipment, quests, finding rumors at the local tavern. There is also the leveling up and spell systems. Gain enough experience to advance and you get four skill points to distribute among your stats. You also get extra spells at certain levels, but your spell inventory only allows you to use six in any given battle. What's that extra spell slot for then? Your mount, which will also give you a spell to use in battle!

Another typical RPG element are the party members. At certain key points in the story you will encounter characters that will join you, and each of them has a special effect against a particular type of creature. So before you start a fight, the party member with the "bonus" ability will come in and do his/her thing, for example, initial damage against undead or getting the first turn.

Probably the only thing I can be critical about is that I wasn't as interested in the storyline as I was in the gameplay. It doesn't seem to be really all that important, since your decisions don't seem to have negative consequences. I found myself clicking through the conversations fast just so I could get to the battles. However, if you're not eager to fight, you will find a nicely written storyline behind the game.

With its addictive mix of RPG and puzzle gameplay, multiplayer battle options, interesting artwork and fantastic music, it's no surprise that Puzzle Quest has been a hit with gamers everywhere, including here with us.

Special thanks to Jessica Bennett at Fortyseven Communications and D3P for providing a copy of this title.