It single-handedly ruined about two solid weeks of productivity around here back in 2007. It was the trans-lingual conversation-starter that introduced me to a very attractive—and as it turned out, accomplished party-girl—JAL stewardess on a flight to the Tokyo Game Show. And it even once served your humble Game Revolutionaries as a form of psychic self-defense, played surreptitiously under the table, at one cataclysmically-boring San Francisco press event that has since become the stuff of legend. Ah, Puzzle Quest: Is there anything it can't do?
[image1]If you haven't had the pleasure, the original Puzzle Quest fused the in-the-zone Zen goodness of a gem-matching puzzle game with the trappings of a prototypical high-fantasy RPG. Its last incarnation, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, took the experience off onto a hex-gridded, science fiction-flavored tangent that was, shall we say, less than totally resonant with fans of the original. Puzzle Quest 2, which was on display at the recent Game Developers Conference, aims to soothe any hurt feelings by bringing the franchise back to its sword-and-sorcery roots.
It's a true sequel on paper, but Puzzle Quest 2 strikes out into virgin territory with a completely new story and characters. Players take the role of a lone adventurer who comes across the town of Verloren—the name even sounds despondent—and its mysterious link to the castle and dungeon nearby. Developer Infinite Interactive has fine-tuned the original game's formula, but PQ veterans will have a definite sense of coming home here. Cue the gem-matching, letting players commence to hack and slash their way through PQ2's single-player adventure.
While some features—researching spells, training mounts—won't return in this sequel, the core gameplay still survives. But mini-games, such as picking locks or disarming traps, no longer exist in an isolated bubble of optional side-quest space and are now directly incorporated into the main story.
Players can choose from the four obligatory character classes—the ass-kicking barbarian, the magic-slinging sorcerer, the hard-target Templar, and the agile, sneaky assassin—and the idea is that each will provide a unique enough experience to warrant multiple play-throughs.
[image2]Puzzle Quest 2 returns to the rectangular gridded playfield, requiring players to match like-colored gems, but different rules are in play this time around. Gold and experience points are now acquired after the conclusion of a battle. A new color (gem) of mana, purple, has been introduced, along with Gauntlets that can be matched to earn action points and activate any weapons that the player may have equipped. The damage-dealing skull icons are back, naturally, and in order to use that recently-acquired sword, you'll first need to hit the proper number of Gauntlets, determined on a per-weapon basis. Of course, the barbarian class can wield dual weapons, two-handed bastard swords, etc., but the enemy is also capable of equipping weapons and knocking you on the head with them.
Meanwhile, characters can utilize item slots for shields, weapons, potions, and the like, as well as four slots for armor. Later in the game, pickups can be used to upgrade armor and weapons. Clever incorporated game challenges abound: The tutorial teaches you to literally “fight” a fire, taking care not to match red gems, which actually fuel the blaze; battering down a castle door takes the form of dealing damage to it in the usual PQ fashion.
Players can put their characters up against the solo game or against other live players in the Xbox Live version (or via Nintendo DS ad-hoc wireless play). There isn't, alas, a firm release date set, but our first, best guesstimate has us hacking and slashing away at office productivity sometime this summer. Pry open the GR treasure-chest for our gem of a full review later this year.
(Duplicate on DS.)