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Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords Review

Duke_Ferris By:
E10+ Contains Suggestive Themes

What do these ratings mean?

A casual obsession.

My wife, Miranda, can play Bejeweled or this Puzzle Bobble clone for hours, while my eyes start glazing over in boredom after about five minutes. Clearly this is the difference between the “hardcore” and the “casual” gamer. It’s not that there’s inherently anything wrong with Bejeweled, but I just need more from a game, depth, modes, strategy, characters.

Which is why Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is so brilliantly addictive. While the “Puzzle” part of the game is essentially various forms of Bejeweled, the “Quest” part is a full-blown RPG that uses Bejeweled in different ways for much of the gameplay. Scott Johnson put it better than I can - it truly is Bejeweled for dorks.
The world of Etheria is huge, but all you’ve seen of it is the tiny kingdom of Bartonia. Strange attacks by the undead have begun and the princess asks you to investigate. Is there evil afoot? Of course there is! Should you go around intrepidly stopping the evil? Of course you should!
Your character can begin as one of four classes: Druid, Knight, Warrior or Wizard. Your choice affects your starting stats, your spells and abilities, and how easy it is to increase different stats as you level up. As you move around the map, there are literally hundreds of quests to go on, both the main storyline and copious side-quests for fun, experience and equipment.
You can also besiege any city you find to take it over and add it to your kingdom. This allows you to build a citadel there, and receive gold in tribute whenever you pass through town.
You can equip up to four items in combat: a helm, a weapon, a piece of armor and a miscellaneous object like a ring or some boots. There are plenty of items to find, and plenty more for sale in the shops of different cities, but most of the more useful items you’ll forge yourself.
click to enlargeTo forge an item, you’ll need to find runes hidden all around the map that add different properties to the item you are making. Then in any of your citadels, you can forge new items for yourself, though the runes become harder and harder to work with as they increase in power. And how do you forge items? By playing Bejeweled, of course.
Almost everything you do in the game involves playing Bejeweled in some way, and the most common is combat. This pits you in a versus match against your opponent on a single grid. You take turns matching colored jewels, gold and skulls. The jewels give you mana for your various spells and abilities, while matched skulls damage your opponent.
Crafting, on the other hand, forces you to match rare little hammers and anvils. Capturing opponents, instead of defeating them normally, tests your brainpower with a puzzle where you must eliminate every gem on the grid. You can ride some captured creatures, and leveling up these mounts requires you to fight a duel with an increasingly shorter time limit. Torturing your captured monsters in your dungeon to learn their skills or spells for your own use pits you against yet another puzzle type. As you can imagine, there are lots of ways to play Bejeweled.
click to enlargeAs creative as Puzzle Quest is in its design, graphically, it's mostly just (all together now) Bejeweled, with little of the flair of flashier puzzle games like Lumines. Although both versions feature the same static portraits for your character and other monsters, the PSP version has better effects for casting spells and bursting rows of gems. The colors are also brighter and easier to discern on the PSP - the DS screen is just a little more cramped and difficult. The music is even more lopsided. While the PSP features quite a bit of good music, the DS’s short orchestral loops will get old fast. The DS version does have one advantage with essentially no load times, while the PSP can stall frustratingly.
Both feature an entertaining multiplayer option that requires two copies of the game. Here you can duel against a friend with any hero you’ve created, along with all their spells and items. While there is a handicapping system to help lower-level duelists, it doesn’t work very well and more powerful heroes will quickly trash noobs.
Still it’s all in good fun, and it’s interesting to see other peoples’ strategies and compare them to your own. For either system, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is a portable addiction, and while I recommend the PSP version, the DS game is almost as good. Besides, it’s not about the graphics, right? In my life, I never thought I’d end up playing this much Bejeweled. I guess that makes me a dork.
B+ Revolution report card
  • Deep, complex RPG
  • Tons of items and strategies
  • Addictive
  • Lots of variations
  • That are all Bejeweled
  • Lackluster presentation

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