Puzzle Chronicles Review

This rote puzzle role-playing game delivers a few exciting moments but falls far short of measuring up to the game that clearly inspired it.

When a game is called Puzzle Chronicles, you go in knowing that it's trying to follow in the footsteps of Puzzle Quest, the great game that popularized the concept of couching puzzle gameplay in the context of a larger story. Sadly, Puzzle Chronicles can't duplicate the captivating chemistry of combining puzzle mechanics with role-playing elements that made Puzzle Quest so memorable. While the core puzzle action delivers rare moments of excitement, some balance issues prevent it from remaining enjoyable over the course of this adventure, and the tale this game tells is too ordinary to be worth seeing through to its frustrating conclusion.

What is best in life? To gather the gems, see them shatter before you, and hear the lamentation of the women.
What is best in life? To gather the gems, see them shatter before you, and hear the lamentation of the women.

You play as a barbarian whose tribe has been enslaved by a horned daemon who rules a distant land. Determined to free your people, you journey from region to region, doing favors for chieftains and kings, to amass an army large enough to assail the evil empire. This plays out across a sequence of map screens in which points of interest are marked with a floating question mark or exclamation point. You select one and, with a sound of shuffling feet that you'll soon grow tired of hearing, the little representation of your warrior moseys over to that location. When you investigate it, some text pops up indicating what you find, and if an enemy lies in wait to attack you, a lengthy load time is triggered, followed by a puzzle battle, followed by another lengthy load time. There are some brief side quests you can undertake to acquire useful items or to access minigames that help you strengthen your character, craft or hunt for valuable items, or train your faithful warbeast companion, but for the most part the game is linear. There's never any question about exactly where you need to go to advance the story, and there's nothing of interest to do outside of that story, making the thrust of the game feel focused but also very narrow. And the load times are frequent enough to cripple any sense of momentum you might try to muster as you carry out your quest. Your character is as dull as he is muscular, and the story plods along predictably until it ends abruptly with one storyline resolved and another one maddeningly unresolved in a blatant setup for a sequel.

The battles play out in a puzzle game that will feel familiar to those who have played Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. Stacks of three colored gems enter the playing field from the left side and essentially fall sideways, toward the wall that divides your area from your enemy's area. You can rotate the stacks or press a button to drop them toward the wall quickly. Special gems called battle gems will shatter any like-colored gems that are linked horizontally or vertically to the battle gem. Then there are colored skulls called rage gems, and for every five of these you destroy, your character attacks, pushing the wall toward your opponent, giving you more room and him less. By clustering four gems of the same color into a square, you create a power gem of that color. Destroying a red power gem activates your equipped weapon, generating rage. Destroying a green power gem activates your equipped shield, making you invulnerable to enemy attacks for a brief period, while yellow and blue power gems activate your equipped ring and trinket, respectively, which can bestow all kinds of other benefits. Shattering gems of each color also contributes power toward a different type of attack from your warbeast. These can grant you rage, stun your enemy, jumble your enemy's gems, and so on. The battle ends when one combatant has no room in which to maneuver the gems entering his or her area.

At its best, this system results in some tense battles in which you and your opponent engage in volleys, sending the wall back and forth across the playing field as the tide of battle shifts first one way and then another. But this is rare. Battles tend to be one-sided, and as you level up and gain equipment, it's not hard to customize your character in such a way that you generate rage quickly and easily enough to plow through even boss enemies with little difficulty. Increasing the difficulty level results in battles starting with the wall a little further into your area, but it doesn't seem to have much effect on how smartly your opponents play, so while battles may take a bit longer, they aren't much harder. Clustering gems of the same color together and triggering massive chain-reaction explosions is engaging and enjoyable for a while, but the ease with which you can win almost every battle means that things grow pretty tiresome long before you've reached the end of your journey. Some of the minigames you encounter, such as a treasure-hunting game in which you must clear a field of all gems of a specific color, are fun and challenging, but they're just occasional and mostly unnecessary diversions from the main quest.

The right attributes and equipment can give you a tremendous advantage in combat.
The right attributes and equipment can give you a tremendous advantage in combat.

The thoroughly ordinary presentation doesn't help matters. You'll spend most of your time staring at gems, so it's a shame that they just look like little colored squares and asterisks, without any glint or sparkle to make them enjoyable to behold. The comic book panels that tell the story are simple and recycle the same assets frequently. At least the maps on which you move your character around have a bit of activity in the form of fluttering flags and smoldering fires. The voice acting is mostly bland, though a few actors find the humor in their roles and at least sound like they're having fun. The music isn't memorable, but it provides a fitting fantasy backdrop for the action.

There's a very simple multiplayer mode here that lets you compete with a friend, so if you know someone with an evenly matched character, you might be able to get a bit of fun out of that, but you're better off playing a solid competitive puzzler that doesn't suffer from the balance issues that this one does. The campaign here is lengthy but not very satisfying, and 30 bucks is a steep asking price for a game whose appearance and repetitive nature make it feel like it ought to be priced as a standard downloadable release. Your hero may seem unstoppable in his struggle to overthrow an evil emperor, but he can't toss Puzzle Quest off of its throne as the enduring king of this genre.

The Good

  • Combat is occasionally exciting
  • Decent variety of puzzle minigames

The Bad

  • Frequent, long load times sap all momentum
  • Generic story with a frustrating conclusion
  • Battles are usually one-sided and dull
  • Bland presentation