Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Puzzle Quest 2 Impressions (DS)

Well, I'm torn.

I've played Puzzle Quest 2 for about fifteen hours, and while that would normally be seen as a ringing endorsement of a game, my feelings are quite mixed.

First off, the basics. The Puzzle Quest series uses match three mechanics in combat, along with the ability to perform special actions that require resources ("gems" that are gathered in the course of the combat round). Besides being generally entertaining, the match three mechanic (in theory) makes combat more unpredictable, because giant cascades of match-threes can significantly alter the flow of the round. Also, if you played both the original Puzzle Quest and Galactrix, know that replacement tiles in PQ2 always drop straight down--there's no directional strategy like there was in Galactrix.

Unlike Puzzle Quest, which featured an overland map, PQ2 is firmly in the dungeon crawl category. In practice, this matters not at all, because the combat mechanics are almost identical, but PQ2 does add some interesting mini-games (also featuring the match 3 mechanic). In particular, the Loot mini-game is quite fun, because finding a match four or five, or enough cascading matches, rewards you with a key to a treasure chest, and a match three with the keys then gives you the treasure chest, which contains either resources or equipment, depending on the color of the key. The playfield slowly disappears, one row at a time, which makes it an interesting challenge to match keys before the row is gone.

There's also a strong roleplaying element in that experience points are accrued through battle and completing quests, and leveling up offers the kind of stat increases (with corresponding bonuses in gameplay) that will be immediately familiar to any RPG fan.

That all seems pleasing and entertaining, and it is, to a degree. But I've had an odd interest curve as I've progressed through the game. In the first five hours, I didn't like it at all, because I wasn't adjusted to some of the changes (many of them cosmetic) from the original Puzzle Quest. For the next five hours, though, I deeply enjoyed the character and equipment progression, and started thinking in combat instead of just mindlessly matching gems.

Now, though, I find myself running out of steam again. I chose a character in the Assassin class, because I thought it would be the weakest character, but after upgrading my weapons and equipment, I haven't lost a combat encounter in several hours, because I no longer take much damage. So even though the combat gameplay is still interesting, it's a relatively foregone conclusion that I'm going to win. That means that the element of unpredictability that the match three mechanic offers is largely wasted--unpredictability is local, but the outcome is universal, so to speak.

I also think my growing dissatisfaction with the game is reflective of my desire to see something greater than that Puzzle Quest 2 offers. It's fine, as far as it goes, but I want more.
One example: I'd like to see successful completion of match three boards leading to other mini-games that aren't match three based. For an example, let's look at a castle siege (not in the game, but it could be). The match three board would represent your men attacking the walls of the castle, and maybe one of the tiles would be ladder pieces, while others might represent a catapult. Gathering enough catapult matches would let you trigger a capapult mini-game (think Defender Of The Crown), where you could aim a giant boulder at the castle walls. Accurately destroying the walls would influence how many tiles of certain types would drop onto the combat board (where you would return after using the catapult). Matching enough ladder pieces would let you put a ladder on the castle walls, which would lead to another mini-game. Remember, though, that you have to stay alive long enough to destroy and raid the castle, so you're required to manage your health as well.

I could have said that much more simply: gathering resources in the match three board enables access to mini-games that aren't based on the match three mechanic. They wouldn't have to be complicated mini-games, either, just simple physics-based mini-games that would be engaging to play. So the match three mechanics would just be a layer of the gameplay, not all of the gameplay.

Plus, I miss rare events. Why can't games of this type include rare events? Rare drops would keep me interested long after the entertainment of the basic game mechanics have worn off.

Without any of that, things turn into a bit of a slog, moving two spaces and attacking another troll or goblin or whatever. I'm still playing it for 15-20 minutes every day, and I'm enjoying it in small doses, but the compulsive need to play has passed. If you liked the original, I think you'll enjoy this game as well, but don't expect anything groundbreaking or particularly innovative.

Site Meter