Monday, March 19, 2007

Puzzle Quest, After a Few Other Things First

I had originally planned to write up some impressions of the Virtua Tennis 3 demo, but I can do that really, really quickly: it feels nothing like tennis. It's incredibly fast, your CPU opponent constantly hits mind-bendingly brilliant shots, and no one ever seems to hit the net. And it looks great.

Why a tennis game wouldn't use the right analog stick to simulate the swing is beyond me.

So thanks but no thanks.

Then I tried Tiger Woods for the Wii. People need to stop complaining that third-party titles aren't selling well on the Wii, because they would sell if somebody made a decent game. Tiger Woods does some interesting things to utilize the Wii controller, but to me, Wii Sports provides a better swing experience, and much better putting, than freaking Tiger Woods does.

And it looks like absolute ass. Here's a note to all third-party software developers: the fact that the Wii isn't a 360 or a PS3 is no excuse to make your Wii games look like PS2 games from 2002.

What's really disappointing about this is that the Wii is capable of excellent graphics--again, Wii Sports is a good example. The golf courses looked bright and vibrant. EA, though, wants to port instead of starting fresh, and the graphics look very, very weak.

Also weak are the ball physics, which are, in a word, crap.

Here's the way to make Tiger Woods a huge hit on the Wii, and EA will never do it: use real courses, but present them with the same kind of vibrant graphics Nintendo used on the Wii Sports golf courses. And make Mii's for all the professional golfers. So it's a serious golf simulation, and the course dimensions are accurate, but the graphics have a cartoon edge to them.

Oh, and fix the damn putting. Tiger Woods for the PC used to have the best putting model I've ever seen--it was absolutely fantastic. But when a game keeps getting released every year, even the features that work perfectly are going to get changed, and they'll wind up broken.

That's what happened to putting.

It used to be perfectly, absolutely smooth, but on the 360 version this year, Tiger's follow-through looks like he's trying to lag a twenty-footer when he's tapping in a two-foot putt, and on the Wii, both the animations and the effort required just look and feel wrong.

But I digress.

I complain on a regular basis that games are designed poorly and that many developers don't even try to make a great game because it's more important to ship it on time.

This weekend, though, thanks to the QT3 forums, I tried the demo of an upcoming game called Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords.

It is, in a word, terrific.

It's also one of the oddest combinations of genres I've ever seen, an RPG with a very strong strategic element and combat that is puzzle-based.


Well, it's an RPG in the sense that there are different character classes, you gain experience, you level up, and you gain skill points that can be allocated as you see fit. You adventure on a 2D overhead map set in the Warlords universe.

That's right--the Warlords universe.

When you fight an enemy, combat takes place in a "jewel grid" where you match three (or more) of the same type of jewel by moving pieces into place. However, there are spells you can cast and plenty of variations on the standard "Bejeweled" type of game that make it very interesting, plus your enemy is trying to drain your hit points by using the same grid.

You can also build a citadel and, with enough gold, buy add-on buildings like these:
Mage Tower (learn spells from captured enemies)
Forge (create magic items)
Siege Workshop (attack and capture cities)
Stables (train mounts)

There are temples and towers and all kinds of things you can add to your citadel, and as you can infer from the existence of a siege workshop, you can capture cities on the map as well.

Like I said, it's a completely wacky combination of genres, but I've played the demo to completion three times this weekend and it's completely addictive. The full game comes out this week (shipping on the 20th) and will be available for PC (via download, I'm hoping), DS, and PSP.

One other thing: it's polished. It doesn't feel rushed or sloppy. It also supports resolutions all the way up to 1600x1200. And there are a number of excellent design decisions that make the game more enjoyable to play. As just one example, after I played through the demo once, I really didn't need to hear the between-missions conversations between characters. That's when I saw the "skip" button, which is exactly what I needed.

It seems like at every point in the game where you wish something was there, it's there. That's the highest compliment I can give to a designer.

Here's a link to the game's website and you can try out the demo here.

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