Considering that Neopets Puzzle Adventure is based on a popular Web site dedicated to the nurturing of digital pets, you'd be forgiven for dismissing (or embracing) it as little more than fan-friendly fare. Though the game manages to generate some appeal for both Neopet fans and newcomers with its addictive puzzle gameplay, this version of Puzzle Adventures has too many flaws to make it worth playing.
Neopets Puzzle Adventure takes after Puzzle Quest, last year's successful genre-blending game that mixed deep role-playing elements with simple puzzle gameplay. At the outset of the game you'll choose from a selection of oddly dressed Neopets, create a profile, and then board a Neopet airship to begin a long-winded journey involving a pair of mysterious amulets and their hidden powers. Though the dialogue is occasionally funny, the talkative cutscenes serve only as filler between battles in the strictly linear Story mode.
Battles play like a souped-up version of Othello or Reversi. You and another player take turns placing colored pieces on the board. Sandwiching an opponent's piece, whether horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, will flip it to your color. In a normal game of Othello, the player with the most pieces at the end wins. But thanks to a number of twists, you don't always have to dominate the board to win a match.
These twists come in the form of a variety of board tiles and petpets. For example, if you manage to flip a piece on a yellow glowing tile, you'll trigger a shockwave, which will flip one of your opponent's pieces to your color. If you're lucky, you can chain multiple shockwaves and rack up a huge score. In addition to the ever-changing shockwave tiles, you'll find tiles with bonus points, stat bonuses, or jewels. The stat-bonus tiles come in three flavors (strength, movement, and defense), and will yield different point totals based on the Neopet that you chose to play as and how you spent your experience points. The key to victory is in your score, so you'll have to strategically place your pieces on bonus tiles if you want to win.
While running errands and completing quests in the Story mode, you'll pick up a variety of petpets and weapons, which act as power-ups during a battle. Petpets can do anything from destroy your opponent's pieces to give you an extra turn. By the end of the game, you'll be able to bring a number of petpets, weapons, and special items into battle with you. Though some petpets are more useful than others, there are no surefire winners, so battles rarely feel unbalanced. The tile variety and petpets add a healthy serving of luck to the fast-paced strategic gameplay of Othello, making every match play out differently.
During your journey through the single-player campaign, you'll come across a handful of mediocre minigames which, while they add some variety to the proceedings, are rarely fun to play more than once. In addition to the minigames, you can buy and sell items in shops, forge weapons at the blacksmith, and cook up a special item in the kitchen. These side activities definitely flesh out the game more than the portable version, but none of them feel crucial to the single-player experience; you'd get along fine without them. Once you've completed the lengthy Story mode and unlocked all of the petpets, there is little incentive to keep going. Neopets fans will be rewarded with codes to unlock achievements at the Neopets Web site, but those uninterested in the virtual-pet community will find little to keep them playing.
Using the Wii Remote to point at the screen, you can play the entire game with just one button. It's a simple, functional layout, and it would work fine if it weren't for the horrible frame rate. The frequent stuttering will have you checking the batteries on your remote as your cursor erratically stumbles across the screen. Whether it's navigating the map, or laying down pieces in a battle, almost every action suffers from the inconsistent frame rate and is bracketed by load screens, and it makes playing the game for an extended period of time a chore.
When you're not trying to get a handle on your sluggish cursor or sitting through one of the frequent loading screens, you'll be treated to some bland and blurry visuals. The basic presentation from the DS version looked OK on the small screens, but what you get in this version is a pixelated mess. The text is small and barely readable, and the game boards and cutscenes don't use the full screen. The Neopets themselves look like strange combinations of existing animals, and their quality runs the gamut from charming to barely passable fan art. The music and sounds consist of a bunch of generic background tunes and a variety of chimes and squeaks from your Neopet, which are neither offensive nor especially pleasing.
Neopets Puzzle Adventure for the Wii is a disappointment. It offers more depth and customization than the DS version, with the same addictive and easy-to-grasp gameplay, but the chugging frame rate and eye-straining visuals keep it from becoming the superior version. There's an enjoyable puzzle game as well as several hours of quests, minigames, and some multiplayer options buried under the poor presentation, but they aren't worth the headache to find.