A splash of rpg makes this title stand out among a sea of ho-hum puzzle games.

User Rating: 8 | Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords PSP
The column game has been around for quite some time now and i've certainly had my fill of them. So when a new puzzle game hits the shelves, it has to be more than just another iteration with a few variants to capture my attention. Puzzle Quest is more than just another Bejeweld clone. Upon the puzzle mold are layers of strategy that make this a refreshing entry in the puzzle genre.

Most time will be spent in the game's lengthy single player campaign. You are a hero trying to protect the kingdom from an undead invasion and ultimately destroy those responsible. When you begin, you choose between four professions: druid, knight, warrior and wizard. Each has a couple portraits you can change and each have their own skills and attributes.

The world map is fairly large and where you'll spend time navigating the world, visiting locations to accept and complete quests, buy & sell equipment, and attack monsters.

The roleplaying elements are very well integrated into the puzzle mold. Your character has 7 skill categories based on elemental magic (air, earth, fire, and water), battle, cunning, and morale. The more points you have in the different elements, the more mana you receive by clearing their associated colours. This mana is spent on various spells you've learned either from defeating enemies or gaining levels. These spells have different effects on the board allowing you to damae or hinder your opponent, increase your defense, heal, and other such ways. The profession you choose at the start of the game also affects the spells you've access to. You can have only six spells equipped to your hero, but as you play the game, your selection will grow.

As for the remaining categories, the battle category affects the damage you cause, morale affects your life points, and the remaining cunning stat affects the effect of wild cards and the gold and experienced gained after battle.

In addition the professions and stats, the other roleplaying elements come in the form of equipment, companions, and mounts. Equipment is pretty self explanitory. There are items that will affect your resistances, skill categories, replenish your mana, offer protection, and even inflict various status effects upon your enemy. A companion is like a 2nd member of your party, and you can have up to eight at one time, and can help out against spefic enemies they are skilled against. For example, Darkhunter will do 10 points of damage to any undead creature at the start of battle. Mounts are simply captured monsters that grant you one additional spell in battle when riding them. They also decrease the travel time on the world map.

All of these elements give you something more to think about besides mindlessly matching up gems because these have a direct impact on gameplay. Casting spells depletes the mana of their elemental type. You need to replenish it by matching up their associated colours if you wish to continue casting them. At the same time, the only way to damage your opponents hit points are matching skulls or casting spells that cause direct damage. The game also isn't like most typical column games where you each hae your own playing field. You must take turns on the same grid with your opponent so you need to think about how your move will affect the board. It gets frustrating when you take your turn which opens up this nasty cascading combo for your opponent that's sure to hurt.

Single-player aside, there are other modes of play to appease players. Wi-Fi multiplayer battles allow 2 people to pit their heroes against each other. There are local and internet high scores where you can track your skill. And for the single player, their are instant battles and player can also choose specific enemies to battle.

Overall, the gameplay is spot on. The controls and concept is simple, all menus are well designed and easy to navigation.
The graphics are very nice and crisp. The character and monster designs are very detailed. The flash effects in battle are also well done. An overall beautiful game on the PSP.

In terms of sound The accompanying score fits the fantasy theme and not too tiresome for lengthy play. A little more variety in tracks would have been nice as well as some voice acting.

The roleplaying strategy overlayed upon puzzle battles is enough to keep players engaged for hours if not weeks.