Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords DS Review

D3 Publisher is slowly becoming a huge force to be reckoned with in the gaming industry. Last month, the company released the surprisingly fun Xbox 360 shoot-em-up Earth Defense Force 2017, which is slowly becoming a best-seller for the system (that is, in stores where it can be found). Now the company has come out of left field yet again with Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords for Nintendo DS (and PSP, which my cohort is reviewing). It's basically a modified version of Bejeweled, but it's how Infinite Interactive modified it that is so surprising here.

Basically, the game follows the set-up of a typical RPG. The player chooses from different classes, including Warrior, Wizard and the like, and then jumps right into a medieval kingdom, looking to complete tasks and make a name for his or herself. This includes smaller things like cleaning bothersome bats out of a belfry or challenging a thief to ownership of a document. But eventually, the adventure begins to pick up, and you soon find yourself pitted against larger enemies with more cunning skills.

Instead of playing out in spell-based battles or real-time combat, however, the game unfolds in a competitive version of the classic puzzle game Bejeweled. Players have to eliminate three or more similar icons from a playfield by lining them up. If four get removed at once, the player earns an extra turn. If five or more get removed, the player gets the extra turn plus a bonus wild card that they can throw out into the battle at any time.

Each of the icons on the playfield hold vast importance. The purple stars add experience points to your player, making them more balanced in future battles. Red, yellow and blue gems can be used for extra attacks, such as confusion, gem eliminations, and special direct attacks on enemies, such as the axe. The skull icons, however, have the greatest importance. Hitting three of those in a row causes damage to your opponent, as they can damage you as well. Get a glowing one or nail four or more and you can put a serious wallop into them. Whoever gets to zero points at the end of the battle loses.

Approaching Puzzle Quest with a Bejeweled mentality is likely to get you killed quickly. I made the mistake of approaching the game that way and found myself frustrated with the fact I was getting killed without clearing advanced training. You should have seen me madly IM'img Mr. Davis and wondering what the big deal was about. But then I read the instructions (not a bad idea, if you ask me) and got the play down over the course of a few battles. Now I can't stop playing it...and I don't even like RPG's that much. That's the magic of combining two great genres into one pleasurable experience, I suppose.

I haven't played the PSP version yet, but the DS version looks good. The still images of the characters don't really pop to life (or even change movements), but the backdrops look in tune with the theme and the on-screen effects on the puzzle grid, particularly Wake the Dead, stand out. The music, while a little repetitive, fits the tone of the game perfectly. However, some may laugh at the notion that they end up losing a puzzle battle to the likes of bats and rats. I mean, come on. They don't even have hands, for chrissakes.

The control interface works through the touch-screen, and for the most part it works very good. Players hit the shape they want to move and then the coordinating shape to swap it out with. They can also tap on sub-menus to select other attacks, as well as power-ups to give their character individual strengths. Occasionally, the game does run into a hiccup or two with touchiness, resulting in an "illegal turn" penalty that could be rather costly- especially if you've set up your opponent for a fatal blow and they take it first. D'oh!

Finally, the game offers two-player multiplayer, allowing a friend to join in the fun and test his or her battle skills against yours. However, they require a copy of the game as well- Puzzle Quest doesn't support two-player via single cart download. I suppose that might have been a little too much to ask from the likes of D3 Publisher, but, guys, it would've been a hell of a sales tactic. Imagine a friend downloading the game and not even turning off their system until they have a copy in their hands...if they can find one. This thing's selling out pretty quick everywhere.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is an addictive, entertaining affair that takes a little bit of patience and learning to get down the basics. Once learned, however, you'll be hooked in no time flat and unwilling to turn a cold shoulder to it. Even with the notion of fighting creatures in puzzle combat sounding as silly as it is, you won't get enough of it. Trust us, kids. We're professionals- we must be after killing zombies with their own skulls.

What's Hot: Crazily addictive gameplay, even for non-RPG fans; solid interface; graphics and music are surprisingly good.

What's Not: No single-cart multiplayer; touchy controls at times. animals playing Bejeweled (THEY DON'T HAVE HANDS!!)