Monday, April 16, 2007

On Puzzles and Questing

Here it is, my long awaited Puzzle Quest DS post. I know you've all been waiting for it, anxiously hunched over your computer, hitting the refresh button over and over and over and over until finally, it arrived. I'll understand if you want to go and get a beverage, possibly use the toilet, maybe get all the weeping and tears of joy out of your system. OK, that's really quite enough. Seriously, you're embarrassing yourself.

Ok, so what is Puzzle Quest? Well, imagine a role playing game, deep and wide. Imagine you're a wizard, warrior, knight or druid in the service of your queen as your land is beset by all manner of unspeakable evil. Imagine that you meet your foe on the field of battle, weapon raised, spells charged, and as you and your foe come together in bloody conflict you play...Bejeweled.

Yes, Bejeweled. You know, match three or more jewels in a row and in doing so clear said jewels? Come on, Bejeweled! If you bought a cell phone in the past 5 years, you probably have a free version of it on there. No, that's your camera. No, that's your address book. Oh never mind.

In this case, instead of jewels you're matching mana gems, skulls, experience stars, gold coins, blue clovers and purple horseshoes. Matching blue, red, green and yellow mana gems give you mana of that color that you then use to cast spells. Matching purple stars gives you extra experience. Matching gold coins gives you extra money. Matching skulls reigns fiery destruction down upon your foe. Match 4 of something and you get an extra turn. Match 5 and you get a wildcard, an extra turn, a ham sandwich and a nice inspirational saying. As you remove pieces from the board, more come down triggering even more possible combos until your opponent kneels in supplication before you, or vice versa.

As you go about fighting beasties you can spend money to upgrade your citadel which then lets you lay siege to other cities, capture enemy creatures and force them to teach you their spells, forge new magical items, pay to have skills upgraded and finally, build lasting monuments to your greatness. Forging items is done by fighting creatures for runes and then via the playing board, only this time you have to remove a certain number of anvils from the board rather than destroy an enemy. If you get to where there aren't any more moves, you start over. When researching spells you have to a) clear away a set number of each color of gem, b) clear away a certain number of scrolls and c) keep the board in play lest you get to no more moves, have to start over and hurl your DS across the room.

As I mentioned before, you can capture creatures rather than fighting them if you've already beaten them 3 or more times. Capturing the beasties involves completing a puzzle where you remove a preset number of jewels from the board. If it's a beastie you can ride, you can use the captured creature as a mount which gives you the benefit of faster movement, possibly bypassing random encounters and stat upgrades. You also get to cast their spells in combat. Laying siege to a city gives you a monthly income as well as more points on the map to research spells, forge items etc. Laying siege puts you in a battle against the city, which usually has about twice as many hit points as you do, and the cities can nail you for double digit damage every time. Sieges can take some time, and the city has a chance of rebelling after you capture it, but the sweet, sweet victory is unparalleled in the game.

The game is amazingly addictive. Since getting it, I have played it pretty much nonstop. I have taken this game to bed with me to play it before I fall asleep. When I close my eyes, I see falling skulls and purple stars and I think it's glorious. Each match is a cat and mouse game of stockpiling the mana you need, while trying to do damage to your opponent and keep the mana they need from them, lest they go on a tear and fuck your ass up. Along with the main quest, there are plenty of side quests, including ones you can repeat should you want to capture beasties, missions to get runes, the aforementioned sieges and the games to forge items and research spells. There's also an instant action mode which pits you against the foe of your choosing and which allows you to bring the experience and cash spoils of war into your main quest for buffing up purposes. There's local multiplayer over Wi-Fi should you have friends who own a copy and you can keep two characters in play if you decide to see how the other half lives. I guess in this case, it would be the other three-fourths.

It's not all perfect. The graphics on the DS, while nice, aren't anywhere as beautiful as they were in the PC demo I've mentioned. Sometimes a wrong move will get registered by the stylus, which ends up then costing you 5 hit points. Until you get a mount that allows you to bypass random monsters, you'll fight the same creatures a lot which is fine for buffing yourself up, but can be a little repetitive. The sound is pretty much shit filled with horrible sound effects and crappy music. I'd definitely recommend turning the volume down on this one.

The AI is pretty good, although sometimes it seems like the computer can see the gems that are about to fall. You'll have a couple of instances per match where the computer makes one move and the resulting gems that fall causes their mana to fill completely, they put a massive hurt on you and get like 9 extra turns. You'll make a move and get some coins. Yay. With the right combination of spells and moves you can help offset the effects of such a situation, however it doesn't make it any less frustrating. All in all, it's a minor gripe and one that's easy enough to deal with. Occasionally you'll have things go your way and I'm sure that the computer is thinking you're cheating.

So far the main story line seems like your generic fantasy fare. There's some banished bad dude and he's causing beasties and such to do nasty things. Personally, I like the notion that I'm the good guy, in service to the queen, yet as soon as I got the ability, I was laying to siege to other cities and subjugating them to my will. In fact, the last city I captured, I did so right after I saved them from some two-headed ogre. The notion of them going from celebrating the ogre's demise to fleeing from my fireballs makes me cackle with glee. I am similarly tickled by capturing sentient beings and forcing them to teach me their arcane skills. I find strange things amusing. I'll give you that.

When Linda bought this game, it was 24 bucks at Target. This is a considerable value considering all you can do in the game. Did I mention that you can get people to join your party and do things for you? Well you totally can. Between this and Pokemon Diamond which drops next week, there's a substantial amount of gaming value to be had on the DS. Those of you with a PSP can also play Puzzle Quest, however your mounts will be sans skills and spells. This is certainly a manageable issue and one that shouldn't keep you from enjoying the game, however it should remind you that the PSP is teh sux0r. You also don't get Pokemon Diamond or Pearl, however given that most PSP owners aren't 10 year old boys, I think you'll get over it.

It's games like this that make handheld gaming so fun. Its gameplay is easy to pick up and understand, you can play it for hours if you want, or just for 5 or 10 minutes and there's a lot of gameplay available. All for less than the price of a "next gen" title. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some gems to match.


Greg said...

Someone doesn't know his lucky charms. Green clovers! Teh clovrs r green!!!!!11

As for learning spells, capturing a necromancer and forcing him to teach you a fireball, okay I get that. But capturing a vampire bat and forcing it to teach you how to suck blood? Not so much.

Anonymous said...

I captured an orc while sitting on the toilet

Bones said...

Well I still can't find it. I've just about decided to break down and buy in online for my suxorzy PSP.

Greg said...

Level 17 Warrior, baby!