Prepare to be enthralled once again.
Just when you thought Puzzle Quest couldn’t get any more addictive, Infinite Interactive found a way to beef it up to new levels of gaming crack. In Puzzle Quest 2, the true sequel to the original title (as opposed to Galactrix), gamers can play through a lengthier, more refined adventure compared to its predecessor. But is it worth the money to battle fearsome monsters a la Bejeweled a second time through?
Familiarity Breeds Consistency
From the start, Puzzle Quest 2 feels very much in the vein of the original title and there is immediately a welcomed familiarity that wasn’t present in Galactrix. Though simplicity isn’t really a word you can use to describe Puzzle Quest as the amount of customization and overall depth is immense, the format is pseudo-simplistic if you’re familiar with the original game; players move a character around, performing a series of primary and alternative quests throughout their adventure. As you defeat enemies using the match-3 gameplay from Bejeweled, you can level up your character, buy equipment, and assign different spells. In a nutshell, this is the entire game but the beauty of the format lies in the amount of personalization you can apply to your character’s attributes as well as the amount of gameplay to be had in a single adventure.
There are four character classes to choose from, each of which excels in different areas of combat. Intuitively, the barbarian excels in brute force with good attacking spells and high strength as well as high life points. The assassin, on the other hand, is best at stringing together massive combos while remaining stealthy defensively (this was my first class of choice and after gaining a large amount of spells at my disposal, I was literally able to finish some battles only allowing my opponent to move a few turns). Sorcerers can also string together large combos with their expansive spell variety while Templars are defensive juggernauts.
Puzzle Quest + Diablo = Addiction
Where Puzzle Quest 2 finds its greatest success, however, is in its ability to keep the original gameplay intact while evolving the adventure into a more expansive and diverse atmosphere for the gamer to explore. Gone is the over world map we remember, having been replaced by a series of dungeons that is reminiscent of the original Diablo. One main dungeon has multiple levels to explore, each of which is a different environment with a new set of enemies to go with the change in ambiance. However, despite the fact that there is only one town and one large dungeon to explore, the game itself is much more expansive than the original Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (after over 15 hours of play, I realized that I was only about halfway through the game).
Aside from the dungeon being similar to Diablo, I also felt that the main town was reminiscent of Tristram as well. There were multiple NPCs, each of which has his/her own short, voice acted one-liners when conversation is provoked. Portals can be found throughout the catacombs that can send you back to the town or to other portions of the dungeon. The item selection also seems more like Diablo with different colored items according to their rarity and word modifiers that reminded me of ones from Diablo. The forging system is a little less complicated this time around but a little more robust overall (since there are separate types of items within each category, each of which can be upgraded separately). Using trade items you find along the way along with gold, you can upgrade any item a number of times to increase its overall effectiveness.
Also, unlike in Challenge of the Warlords, items can be used in combat. Either hand can hold a different item ranging from multiple weapons to shields and all sorts of supportive potions. Thus gold tiles that were previously on the battlefield have been replaced by action tiles that are spent to use your items in battle. In order to obtain gold and treasures, players partake in a special “loot” mini game for either treasure chests lying around or piles of loot. All kinds of other matching mini games are also strewn throughout the game allowing players to perform actions such as picking locks, putting out fires, disarming traps, and the classic spell unlocking.
Picking a Platform
So, before deciding to choose characters, attributes, and spells, it’s probably worth noting advantages and disadvantages of each of the two platforms available for the game (Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo DS). Here is a convenient chart to give you an idea of where each version excels compared to the other (since essentially the main game is the same but there are major differences in other aspects):
The first difference may seem like I’m comparing apples to oranges as the Xbox 360 is clearly built for better graphics than Nintendo’s handheld. However, there are major visual and audio factors that might affect your purchase of the Xbox 360 version over the DS version. I’m not saying this is a processor pushing game on the 360 by any means but the visuals are very crisp and clean and the larger real estate of your TV screen as opposed to the tiny DS screen allows for better layout of the game’s visual scheme overall. Also notable is the major jump in musical quality from DS to 360: on the DS, most of the instruments are low quality even compared to other DS games and sound quite muffled overall whereas the Xbox version actually has clearer, better instruments as well as better sounding voice acting. These issues usually wouldn’t sway my decision but in this case, there really are glaring differences between the two that affect your experience.
As for controls, the DS has the clear advantage with its intuitive touch controls. As was the case with previous games from the series, the DS touch screen makes navigation outside of battles as well as control within battles much easier overall. However, again with the larger real estate of the TV screen, portions such as organizing items, or shopping/upgrading your equipment is actually better on the 360.
You wouldn’t expect load times to be an issue on any DS game and when I first played through, I didn’t notice much of a problem. However, after playing for only a few minutes on the 360, I realized just how much faster the game was on the console version. This makes a big difference considering the length of the main adventure. In fact, I found the load times on the DS version to be worse than those of Challenge of the Warlords (which didn’t suffer from the same issue). Where the DS does have an advantage over the 360 in terms of access, however, is in its overall portability. Thus, though the 360 version is much faster overall, the ability to bring your DS anywhere sure beats being limited to playing on your couch at home.
In terms of overall gameplay, the 360 version actually excels with its multiplayer over the internet as well as its added multiplayer tournament mode, which is a balanced multiplayer mode that gives both players the options of choosing from a number of creatures to use in their party; whoever defeats all four of the other players’ monsters first wins the match. Finally, however, the most notable advantage of the 360 version over the DS is the price point of the game. At 1200 Microsoft Points (equivalently $15 USD), the 360 version is actually half the price of the DS’s $29.99 price point. This is a significant difference for a better version of the game overall. Thus, if you have both systems, your best bet is to pick this game up from Xbox Live Arcade even if the portability of the DS is tempting (unless you’re buying the game for a long trip, in which case the DS purchase is justified).