Monday, July 16, 2007

Byte: Puzzle Quest

I picked up Puzzle Quest on DS a week or two back because I saw that it'd gotten quite a bit of good press.

It's essentially Zookeeper meets an early edition of Zelda. If that sounds like a weird concept, it is, kinda. You've got a retro-style top-down RPG where you explore the map of the game world, along with an equally archetypal "yeah, right, make me care.." story with a thankfully skippable narrative, linked together by Zookeeper-style turn-based battles whenever you meet enemies. The RPG part allows you to choose a character class (Knight, Warrior, Mage or Druid), with the battles allowing to gain experience and money, with which you level up and buy gear from the local shops to grant you bonuses in the battles. It's quite an elegant design and dangerously compulsive to boot. The story, as such, is utter bunkum, but mildly diverting nonetheless.

The battles are obviously the meat of the game, and it's very interesting to play a Zookeeper/Bejeweled-style 3-or-more-match-'em-up game without a time limit. Instead, it's more like chess, as you're trying to anticipate moves ahead to prevent your opponent from matching up mana blocks that can either power up their spells or do you direct damage on the next turn. So there's a very tactical level to the game; you can almost play a game of denial of resources, where you're trying to starve the opposing player of the mana they need for their spells and abilities, or you can just go straight for the jugular and try and kill them off as quickly as possible.

It's a struggle to fight your natural instinct to make moves as quickly as you see them, because if you rush, you can miss matching four or more blocks, which gives you an extra turn - all the more valuable if you're trying to build up your mana for a spell attack. At higher levels especially, you really need to consider your moves more carefully, because the AI blatantly cheats and strings together combos as if it had foreknowledge of what's going to drop into the spaces it has cleared with its move (which it clearly does). You can tell it has foreknowledge of what's going to drop down because if you wait over a move long enough, the game will give you a pointer to the "suggested" block you should move. It's telling that more often than not this isn't a pointer to the best block you can move that particular turn. It's a pointer to the block that will give the AI an effective free shot at you the next turn...

For this reason alone, I've taken to NEVER, EVER moving the block the game recommends as a suggested move. I HAVE YOUR NUMBER, MR. MACHINE. I KNOW YOUR GAME. The only time I ever do the recommended move is if it matches four blocks or more to give me a free turn. And even then, I view it with total suspicion. Never trust a helpful machine. They're after your brains and your women... I know, I've seen Demon Seed.

At £15 on Play, it's well worth picking up, especially if you loved the addictiveness of Zookeeper and would like to try it with a novel twist.
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