Review: Puzzle Quest 2 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Puzzle Quest 2
Publisher: D3Publisher
Developer: Infinite Interactive
Genre: Puzzle/RPG
Release Date: 06/30/2010

March of 2007 came and went innocently enough, but that was the same month where Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords fell into my lap (well, more specifically, my Nintendo DS). It didn’t seem like too many outlets or gamers were too focused on the release, but after a few weeks on the market, it quickly picked up steam and fast became an under-the-radar hit that satisfied both casual (thanks to being Bejeweled) and diehard (thanks to the adventure, quest, and RPG mechanics) gamers. The success led to the game being ported to everything imaginable, but jumping ahead three full years, we’re finally seeing the first direct sequel (although 2009 did see a space-themed version, which was reviewed by Aaron Sirois). With many puzzle games since imitating the puzzle/RPG hybrid, Infinite Interactive and D3 had really stumbled upon something novel, but is this sequel too little, too late, or does it pin the series up as the returning champion of the genre?

Given its RPG influences, players might expect a grand story tucked within Puzzle Quest 2, but you just don’t get that with this installment. Basically, the village of Verloren has gone down the crapper thanks to a demon force and the title has the player, either as a male or female hero of one of four character classes, cleaning up the village and then descending into a tower to make sure this evil doesn’t return. While extremely straightforward, this journey would be made interesting through well-developed characters, but I found very few of these throughout my play of the title. Most of the title has players running into characters that send them to either beat a specific enemy or retrieve an item … that is retrieved by beating a specific enemy. On the plus side, certain encounters do display slightly flavorful descriptive text like one would expect to find in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign and, periodically, the player will be treated to short art stills with voiceovers to nudge the story along.

With such a flat story, Puzzle Quest 2 is grossly saved by the sheer amount of content it offers. While players will be bouncing along environments, they can also partake in side quests for extra loot and experience points and along the way, there will also be a number of optional enemies to fight (with most guarding treasure chests). Character customization gets pretty in-depth between spells (learned through level progression, learning from enemy characters, and befriending specific characters), equipment, stats and more, and dedicated players have four different character classes to tool with. Even extending beyond the standard quest mode, players can tackle a quick solo battle, partake in any mini-games that have popped up in the quest mode at any time, go toe-to-toe with another player locally, and log on to Xbox LIVE and partake in versus modes. Exclusive to the home versions of the title, players also get a tournament mode that allows them to select four monster characters to control in a team-based mode. For its price, Puzzle Quest 2 is offering a bevy of options and content, so if it gets its hooks into you, you might not be able to escape for a while – and this comes at half the price of the portable version!

Visually, Puzzle Quest 2 is a bit more involved over its predecessor, ditching the “overworld” feel to zoom in on the environments and allowing players to navigate terrain in “point-and-click” fashion. The new setup gives the title a bit of a dungeon crawling vibe and all of the environments are suitably brooding, but these segments don’t really push the graphical envelope. Most of the TLC in the title comes in the character portraits that feature well-done fantasy artwork. Even though the HUD gets scrunched just a little bit due to all of the necessary information, the playfield really pops out due to bright colors of the mana gems and the light trails and flashes left by matches is a treat for the eyes. Graphically, Puzzle Quest 2 does its job with above average to great results, but its major con lies in the repetition of these assets. Players will continually run into the same types of enemies and a great majority of the game will have them staring at colored gems. A little more variety would have been welcomed, but it in no way ruins the game.

Repetition really comes into play with most of the game’s elements, but this is most notable in the field of sound effects and music. What we are given with Puzzle Quest 2 is very well done with both soft and more intense orchestral scores to match the situation, respectable voiceovers, and the expected effects of magic and the popping of the matches from the playfield. Players will be hearing these same effects constantly, but given the addictive nature of the title and its replayability, the repetition of the visuals, audio, and gameplay will most likely not affect most players, moreover fans of puzzle or RPG games.

Getting into the gameplay, what really makes Puzzle Quest work is the fact it is so simple. The control boils down to puzzle game convention of moving a cursor with the analog stick/d-pad and using a single button to manipulate the board. While this may be a con for diehard fans of the original title, Infinite Interactive made the mechanics of the title even more simple. Gold and experience gems are now completely removed from the playfield, being replaced only by “action points,” represented by gauntlet icons. These icons allow the player to execute simple actions, but this extends the customization and options available to the player. In Puzzle Quest 2, equipment is no longer just for passive bonuses, as action points can be spent to do straight damage with a weapon to the opponent, bolster your defenses with shields (high defense leads to frequent blocks that reduce damage by half), or even add more mana and health through potions. While these simplify actions to pressing a mere button instead of skillfully matching gems, it does add more strategy and encourages experimentation.

A few of the menus can be a tad clunky and map navigation can be irritating due to the cursor liberally snapping to points of interest, but, overall, it is a breeze to pick up and play the title. Really, the title is Bejeweled with RPG elements, so it is natural Puzzle Quest 2 can be as addictive as its origin and there were a few nights where “just a few more enemies” led to me staying up until 3 a.m. It’s hardly an original premise (being a sequel based off an existing game), but it still works now, even after three years, and it works for Puzzle Quest 2 better than any of the imitations we’ve seen on the market (which includes two not-so-hot installments from Infinite Interactive itself – Puzzle Kingdoms and Puzzle Chronicles).

Yeah, you’ll still get the inclination sometimes that the computer is a cheating whore conveniently having three skulls drop from the top right next to each other or getting a first turn on a playfield with a buffet of extra turn opportunities, but it hardly makes the game impossible. Playing the game on normal, I encountered occasional instances where the CPU passed up on the best possible move, so, perhaps we’ve been given a bit of a break for the sequel. The enemies will also scale in level and ability as the player levels up, keeping a somewhat even playing field as the player progresses through the game. In the grand scheme of things, Puzzle Quest is kept fun and is the definition of “easy to learn, difficult to master.”

The Scores
Story/Modes: GREAT
Graphics: VERY GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control and Gameplay: AMAZING
Replayability: UNPARALLELED
Balance: GREAT
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: AMAZING
Appeal Factor: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GOOD

Short Attention Span Summary
If you’re expecting big things for the sequel to Puzzle Quest, odds are high you won’t be disappointed in this effort. Instead of straying from the formula, Infinite Interactive went back to what originally worked and pumped it up with content. For $15 you get a full quest mode filled with side quests, online multiplayer, a new team-based mode where you can command the game’s monsters, and more on top of the mass of customizable classes, items and spells. Puzzle Quest 2 gets quite repetitive and the story is hardly a winning effort, but the puzzle action and RPG elements are so engrossing, it’s hard to notice. Even though the title is hardly a technical masterpiece, it has the gameplay, addictiveness and replayability to please puzzle fans. There are some changes made to the heart of the title, but most fans shouldn’t mind and players should find the title to be even more accessible than before. I might possibly recommend Gyromancer more than Puzzle Quest 2 to a select group of gamers, but, for the money, Puzzle Quest 2 has more appeal, customization ,and game modes and is easier for a larger audience to get into to.



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