Considering that Neopets Puzzle Adventure is based on a popular website dedicated to the nurturing of digital pets, you'd be forgiven for dismissing (or embracing) it as little more than fan-friendly fare. Fortunately, the game manages to generate some appeal for folks who don't even know what a Neopet is. Puzzle Adventures includes enough fuzzy Neopets to keep fans happy while offering a surprisingly fun and strategic puzzle game to reward the curious.
Neopets Puzzle Adventure takes after Puzzle Quest, last year's successful genre-blending game that mixed a deep role-playing story and customization with simple puzzle gameplay. After you choose from a selection of oddly dressed Neopets, you'll 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 just serve 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. The player with the most pieces at the end of the game wins. It's a simple game, but developer Infinite has added a few interesting twists to keep you playing.
These twists come in the form of shock waves and petpets. If you manage to flip multiple pieces in multiple directions, you'll trigger a shock wave, which will flip one of your opponent's pieces to your color. If you're lucky, you can chain multiple shock waves and dominate the board, but that doesn't always spell victory, thanks to the petpets. While running errands and completing quests in the Story mode, you'll pick up a variety of petpets, which act as power-ups during a battle. Petpets can do anything from destroy your opponent's pieces to give you an extra turn, and are powerful enough that each can turn the tide of a match. By the end of the game, you'll be able to bring five of the 25 petpets into battle. Though some petpets are more useful than others, there are no surefire winners, so battles rarely feel unbalanced. The shockwaves and petpets add a healthy serving of luck to the fast-paced strategic gameplay of Othello, making every match play out differently.
Though Neopets Puzzle Adventure emulates Puzzle Quest's structure, it lacks its depth. Your character will level up during the story, but other than allowing you to bring more petpets into battle, the level progression means nothing. You'll come across a handful of enjoyable minigames, but they don't serve a purpose outside of breaking up the monotony of constant battles. It would have been nice to have some options to level up petpets or to buy and trade items to use in battle. Once you've completed the Story mode and unlocked all 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. It's a shame that the RPG mechanics are so shallow, because the gameplay is quite addictive.
The controls are simple and work flawlessly. Everything is handled with the touch screen; you simply tap it to place a piece, accept missions, and navigate the menus. The quick-draw minigame that requires you to draw basic shapes as they fly by the screen does an admirable job of recognizing your furious scribbles.
Though the presentation is basic, the visuals in the Story mode feature plenty of crisp hand-drawn images. The Neopets themselves look like strange combinations of existing animals, and their quality runs the gamut from really charming to barely passable fan art. The battles are easy on the eyes, with bright colors, flashy petpet and shock wave effects, and a low level of clutter. The music and sounds consist of a bunch of generic background tunes and a variety of chimeswhich are neither offensive nor especially pleasing.
Neopets Puzzle Adventure is entertaining while it lasts, and it's worth a look even if you're not familiar with the source material. While some may find the single-player campaign to be a bit shallow, the interesting game variables and power-ups still make for a solid and enjoyable puzzle game.