An unlikely concoction of fun.
Delightfully, Puzzle Quest dissected the two genres and presented to us only the best aspects of each with so much precision and elegance a Biology teacher would have been proud. Game play, if not the only thing to offer from the puzzle genre replaced the much-maligned random battles of generic role playing games. Although the result is the same -you gain gold and experience after each battle-, Puzzle Quest changed the rules of the process, taming the ugly head of 'grind-fest' that so many RPGs fall victims to. Time and fun take a proportional relationship as players will inevitably find themselves spending twice the time in 'battling' hordes of Minotaurs and Sandworms, deriving twice as much fun, but only at half the frustration. This is a mathematical formula best spelt by the following word: Addiction.
Battles require you to match jewels and skulls on a 8x8 battle board, the simplicity of which not a compromise for difficulty. By matching 3 or more jewels of the same colour, players will gain Mana of the equivalent colour for casting spells and abilities, winning battles when the life points of the opponent depletes to zero. Skulls can be matched to deal direct damage to the opponent, and the same can be done for collecting gold and experience points. Traces of these puzzle games that share similar rules and traits are cleverly placed in other aspects of the games, such as in capturing monsters, seizing castles, or in researching spells.
Like a skilled chef who knows better than to tamper too much with their best ingredients, Puzzle Quest never deviates from its core game play of matching jewels. What it provides is a delicious and unfamiliar premise for the inclusion of various RPG tweaks that somehow make puzzle games cool. Players would have a choice in selecting their preferred cIass, with which would affect the way the game be played. Knights excel at dealing direct damages, Wizards is apt at collecting Mana quickly, while Druids are great choices for players unperturbed by the strategic affairs of matching jewels. Upon levelling up, characters can be buffed in stats such as Battle, Cunning, or Magic Mastery that would have direct impacts on the battle board.
The sheer difficulty in pin-pointing an aspect of Puzzle Quest that particularly stands out is a true testament to how the game manages to integrate such varied aspects of video gaming into one wholesome experience. As evident in both the crisp graphics and limited music selection, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is the minimalists' delight, served in the delectable price of 1200 Microsoft Xbox Live points. But it is a feast that even the hardcore gamers can savour- the various strategic options, achievement points, online game play, and the impressive replay-ability worthy of their time.