Last August I reviewed the DS and PC versions of Puzzle Quest 2. The quick summary of my review is that “the game made good as a true sequel to the “Casual Meets Hardcore and Loves It!” surprise hit from 2007″. In early December Puzzle Quest 2 arrived on the iTunes App Store in the form of a Universal app with Game Center support. So how did it do in the translation?
Puzzle Quest 2 marks the return of the world’s leading puzzle adventure series and its trademark blend of match 3 gem-based gameplay and fantasy role-playing. Rewarding and accessible for all levels of gamer, it is the ultimate delivery system for the mental escape that puzzle gamers seek.
* Absorbing puzzle gaming with a purpose with Puzzle Quest?s beloved match 3 gameplay with all new gems and attacks.
* Immersion beyond the puzzles in a fantasy universe with hours of exploration, limitless endings and a new map and exploration system.
* Simple but deep rewards and customization including new unique character classes tuned to multiple skill levels and Satisfying RPG character leveling and rewards
In my PC & DS reviews I detailed the history of the Puzzle Quest franchise and developers, so here is the quick version:
Way back in 2007 a little unknown company called Infinite Interactive came out with Puzzle Quest, a game that looked to meld a casual puzzle game mechanic with a true role-playing game. The game was very well done and wildly successful, and I own the game for the DS (2 copies for multiplayer), PSP, PC, Mac, Wii and iPod Touch. All but the Wii version were well worth buying. The problem is crafting a follow-up. As I mentioned, Galactrix was pretty lackluster as it put too much emphasis on things that were simply not fun.
Puzzle Quest 2 is a ‘true’ sequel: it is another fantasy role-playing game wrapped around an enhanced ‘match 3’ puzzle game engine immediately familiar to anyone who has played Bejeweled. That was an attraction of the original game, and the alterations to that system are one area where Galactrix fell flat.
The simple story of this review is that the iPad version is the PC version, and so all of the positives and the few negatives all still apply. But since I played through the game again, it makes sense to walk through the review once more.
Just after I grabbed Puzzle Quest 2 from the App Store I also played some of Puzzle Quest Galactrix again, because I dislike using a game as a contrast without having fresh knowledge. I have to admit to only playign a couple of hours – it didn’t take long before I felt I just couldn’t take it anymore – the game has the balance tilted so strongly in making you do crap you have already tired or that it feels intentionally torturous!
Another complaint folks had about Galactrix, and to an extent about the original game, was a perception of ‘cheater AI’. In other words, since the game ‘knew’ what jewels would fall it could plan moves accordingly. This was directly stated not to happen in the original Puzzle Quest, and based on my experience I know that by keeping my eyes open I got more ‘fatal chains’ (you get the first move and keep getting ‘extra turns’ until you wipe out the enemy without them ever getting a single move) than ever happened to me.
Playing Galactrix again confirmed what I had seen before: there wasn’t cheating happening, but the randomness associated with the added dimensions made things feel out of control way too often. It is possible to try to predict and plan drops, but in the extra dimension it just becomes tedious.
Fortunately, Puzzle Quest 2 uses the same core mechanic as the original, and it works every bit as well. One interesting change is that you get hints for moves immediately, and generally speaking if you don’t take the suggested move the enemy will – sometimes it is good to choose the recommendations, other times you are much better off making your own choice. The iPad version gives a quick hint, then lets you search for alternatives, then comes back with a persistent recommendation.
As mentioned, the core combat mechanic involves matching 3 gems. If you match 4 you get an extra turn, and matching 5 means creating a wild-card AND getting an extra turn. Matching gems fills the pools for those colors, with power icons filling your weapon attack and defense, and skulls doing direct damage to your opponent. As you fill your color pools you can make use of game-changing skills to cause massive damage or otherwise alter the flow of combat.
The between-battle gameplay is somewhat different from the original game. Previously you had an avatar on screen that you moved around an overland map from location to location and sometimes encountered non-quest enemies. Now you are controlling an actual character moving through towns and dungeons in isometric perspective, speaking to individuals as you might in a normal RPG. This definitely changes the feel of the game more towards a standard RPG.
To add to the RPG feel you choose your character type, get a different appearance based on class, and get to name your character. Others will refer to you by name in dialogue, and will mention your character class. When combat begins, a cool animated ‘Enemy vs. Character’ graphic splashes across the lower screen, with your chosen name displayed. It seems like a small thing, but it adds to the immersion.
Taking certain character classes means unlocking skills as you gain levels. For example, my Sorcerer Trislyn gets a Mage Strike, the ability to channel specific mana types, Fire Bolt, a Finger of Death spell, and many more. Also, every character can carry a weapon in their main and off-hand. Each of these spells/skills/weapons has a required amount of mana or power to use, which you gain by matching gems. This makes each turn a strategic choice about being on the offense, defense, or building mana for a later strike. Whatever you do, you know you don’t want to set your enemy up for a big turn!
As you gain levels you advance in a single attribute. Each one – such as Strength, Agility, Intelligence, Stamina or Morale – gives you increased abilities and defense attributes tied to a specific color gem. So if you choose Strength you add to your starting Red mana and gain added Red mana with each match, and so on.
The different skills and character types make a big difference in terms of your character, and also in the enemies you face. Since Puzzle Quest 2 is very combat heavy, it is nice to know that you aren’t facing same enemy after same enemy, but instead seeing some real variation in the flow of battles. Also, depending on the character class you choose, some enemies will be easy to defeat and others will be difficult – which adds replayability.
Some of the dungeons and areas get rather large, so one great new feature is fast travel. Once you unlock a ‘portal’ it is always available to you. So you can get deep into a dungeon and defeat a boss, head back to town and then return to mop up the rest of the enemies in the area.
Aside from the combat puzzles, there are six mini-games to challenge you including looting, hidden item puzzles, lock-picking, disarming traps, and so on. These are all variants of the matching puzzles, but with enough changes that they keep things fresh and present a nice diversion.
As I said, the iPad version is essentially the same as the PC version with very few differences. The graphics are very well done and similar to the PC game. As with the PC version, when outside of battle it feels like a well done 2D isometric RPG with a modern flair. In battle the gems are detailed, the effects are flashy, and there is a great overall sense of style that pervades the entire experience.
My biggest complaint with the PC game was that every time I finished something the game would lag for several seconds before acknowledging the accomplishment and allowing me to move on to the next step. With the iPad version that lag persists and is joined by longer loading screens for every room-to-room move you make.
The ‘Loading’ times meant I was more likely to make sure I found the nearest fast travel zone, but the lag remained the most annoying thing for me. When completing a quest, the quest icon would stay over the quest giver as though they had a new quest for me. But the screen wouldn’t respond while the quest rewards appeared slowly, so I had to just get used to being patient and losing 30 seconds or so at the completion of every quest just waiting for the game to be ready for my input … which was annoying.
The save system remains basically the same: the game saves after the completion of each ‘event’ such as a battle or mini-game. It is possible to lose a move to a new room, but that is about it. The game allows you to ‘Save and Exit’ which will make sure everything is recorded and closed out. Unlike the DS or PC versions, I never noticed a save-delay.
But minor criticisms aside, Puzzle Quest 2 is a worthy successor to the 2007 original game and allows us to forgive and forget the unfortunate Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. It has enough of a story to keep things engaging, enough cool combat and mini-games and side-quests to keep you going for hours, and enough differences in skills and character types to keep you coming back again and again for more.
As for which version I prefer, I had previously said it was a tough choice. But no longer – the iPad version remedies some of the issues with the PC version and looks and plays better than the DS version … and costs $10! There are some added delays to endure of a few seconds as you transition from room to room, but it doesn’t stop this from being my favorite version of Puzzle Quest 2.
Review: Puzzle Quest 2
Where to Buy: iTunes App Store
What I Like: Core ‘Match 3’ system is well implemented; Story keeps you engaged; Very challenging enemies; Different classes FEEL different; Deeply rooted RPG system
What Needs Improvement: Longer load times; Game makes you wait too long between actions
Source: Personal copy of game.