|System: PSP, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: 1st Playable Productions||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: D3 Publisher||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 20, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
May 14, 2007 - Handheld gaming is a wonderful thing. I see it as the great savior of the family vacation. All of the fun, well, almost all of the fun, of the big consoles is wrapped up in a convenient little package. It makes cross-country trips in the back seat of your parents' minivan bearable. It is true that it's often difficult to find handheld games that can compare to those of the big three, but when a game does come along that satisfies a gamer's criteria, there's nothing better. Thankfully, D3 Publisher has recently released a game that is sure to please all who pick it up. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is a puzzle game that's full of adventure, style, and complexity. The game scores big on multiple levels and should be purchased before your dad sets up the cargo shell on top of the old Volvo this summer.
Puzzle Quest has recently been released for both the DS and the PSP handhelds, so if you've invested in one or the other you won't have to miss out on all the fun. If you own both systems, then the decision becomes a bit more convoluted. The PSP version with its crisp graphics and larger battle grid is definitely prettier. Spell effects and monsters are more detailed, and the experience overall seems epic. On the other hand, watch out for those loading pauses; they will drive you crazy. The DS version is all about the gameplay. The stylus just lends itself so well to this type of game. The graphics are a bit muddled, but are still quite nice. It's too close to call on which one to get. Go with the system that you like the best, and you won't be disappointed.
The game takes you through level after level of RPG fun while focusing gameplay on a simple yet gratifying puzzle format. The gameplay can most readily be compared to Bejeweled. On its surface, the gameplay seems identical. But, dig a bit deeper, and the differences are myriad. This is due to the game's fantasy storyline and RPG character development. Additionally, the puzzles match you against an opponent, such as a bat or an ogre, depending upon the context of the story. These opponents all have specific strengths and weaknesses that they bring to the game. You won't be fighting against the clock or your previous score but rather against a real foe in order to advance the plot of an engaging quest.
In general, the player and the opponent must match gems or orbs of the same color and type in order to gain mana. The mana you achieve directly corresponds to the gems you eliminated from the board. Mana is the key to victory because it is what enables you to cast defensive or offensive spells that cause status effects, change the battle grid or do direct damage or healing in order to thwart your enemy. This really ups the strategic ante and makes it a superior puzzle game. Spells have specific mana values and different effects that correspond to the type of mana acquired. There is green, red, yellow, and blue mana representing earth, fire, air, and water mastery. For example, "Stun" requires 6 green and 5 red mana orbs to cast. Whereas "Rabid Bite," a more powerful spell acquired from a giant rat mount, needs 12 green and 9 blue orbs to be cast. There are also skulls, coins, and star gems that do direct damage to your opponent, increase your purse, or give you extra experience points accordingly. Match these symbols on the board, cast spells, and deal out damage to your opponent in order to reduce their hit point count to zero and vanquish your enemy.
This game is an RPG, so character selection is important. At the beginning of the game, you will choose a character with which you would like to march into battle. Choose from a druid, a knight, a warrior, or a wizard. Each of these characters has unique talents which will help you best your foes. Some can change the colors of gems on the board, others have a large repertoire of spells with which to choose, and others still do direct damage through special attacks. Choose the one that seems most interesting to you and fits your playing style. Each character's impact upon the playing grid is distinct but they're all more than capable of getting the job done. Some monsters you will be able to capture and ride them into battle as a mount. Mounts will provide you with an extra spell slot and make you that much stronger. You can also capture and construct citadels. Citadels are tough to beat and provide a training ground for both your mount and your character. The game is very complex and highly customizable. It stands head and shoulders above other puzzlers because of this. Another neat gameplay aspect is minion acquisition. As you advance through the game you will meet friends along the way and they will join your party. These party members will add bonuses, attributes or even have first strike capabilities and certain creatures. Needless to say, this adds to the story's interest, effectively engaging the gamer.
As you progress through the game, your character will increase their abilities and attributes by leveling up. Concomitantly, you will face progressively more difficult opponents. You'll start by facing off against giant rats and vampire bats but will quickly take on more challenging foes such as undead warriors and even uber-monsters like the Arkliche. All of these monsters, like your character, will have attributes, spells, and skills that make them uniquely suited to beating you. Be wary of this, and go into every battle well prepared. You will purchase, find, and be given equipment along the way that make your character more lethal. You will have to manage your inventory a bit, depending upon the opponents you face, but this is by no means tedious like it can be in other RPGs. Some weapons are better against orcs or trolls, while specific armor or amulets will give you the advantage necessary to stop a marauding frost giant.