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Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords Package Art
1st Playable

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

Cult hits just seem to find their way onto DS. Games like Phoenix Wright and Hotel Dusk don't garner much press or advertising, but word of mouth eventually spreads. Soon enough, they become another in a long line of games to mention if you want to sound cool to a geek. The latest title to earn this coveted status: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords.


As the majority of Puzzle Quest takes place on a grid with gems and skulls, functionality is really all that's necessary. Nicely-drawn, anime-styled characters move the plot forward with suitable backgrounds as they chatter. The overworld map isn't much to look at, but like the rest of the visuals, it still serves its purpose.That said, those looking for graphical splendor might not want to play a puzzle game, let alone DS.


Barring a few exceptions like the original Tetris and Lumines, handheld puzzlers usually aren't a sound to behold. Puzzle Quest tunes stay consistent, never really reaching beyond renaissance faire, uh, fare. The little amount of voice work in the game -- usually to warn that your character is on their last legs -- is often hard to hear over the music. On the whole, the audio isn't bothersome, but it won't make anyone turn down the volume on iTunes.


At its core, Puzzle Quest is basically Bejeweled, the omnipresent internet favorite of moms everywhere. Just as in Bejeweled, the player is presented with an array of different colored shapes that they must match up in groups of three or more horizontally or vertically to make them disappear. A move consists of switching two adjacent shapes and must make a match to stick. Developer 1st Playable has taken this simple premise and injected it with a heaping helping of nerdiness.

It would have to be a substantial amount of nerd to warrant a purchase of a game that's already available for free everywhere on the internet, but 1st Playable has done it. Said nerdiness comes in the form of a great deal of RPG content that includes battles and character leveling mixed in with the puzzle gameplay. Though it sounds like an odd combination, it does wonders for a stale shareware standby. All matches are treated as battles against some evil villain. In addition to colored gems, skulls are added to the mix, which do damage to an opponent's HP when matched up. Aligning other gems grants money, experience points or mana. Getting enough of the different types of mana allows players to perform special moves and cast spells. Some moves damage the opponent according to the layout of the playing field. Others may directly affect the grid -- destroying all yellow mana gems, for example.

The story mode takes place on a simple, top-down map that wouldn't be out of place in a Heroes of Might & Magic game, and plays similarly as well. As players take on quests, they'll inevitably take part in the aforementioned puzzle battles. Along the way, different adventurers may join the party, adding their unique skill bonuses -- whether it's an advantage against the undead or a bolster to defense -- to the player's arsenal.

Puzzle Quest starts out easy enough, but the difficulty quickly spikes. Soon enough, players may well be forced to grind for experience points to gain levels until powerful enough to take on the next major foe. Interestingly enough, while grinding in most RPGs tends to be a tedious and monotonous affair, the very nature of the battles requires that the player is on their toes at all times. Knowing the direct impact a battle can have on progress (beyond mashing the A button over and over) makes the spells learned and levels gained that much more satisfying.

However engaging battles may be, having Bejeweled in its lineage carries a few flaws over to Puzzle Quest. As in Bejeweled, when gems are removed from the field, more appear from above. Because what falls is completely random, it can easily affect the outcome of the game. It's very frustrating to calculate move after move, planning strategies to defeat an enemy, only to be undone by Lady Luck. Also devastating are the sensitive touch controls. While most of the time it's convenient to move gems around with the stylus, one slightly imprecise tap can spell doom in intense battles.


A puzzle game wouldn't be worth its weight in plastic without a proper multiplayer mode, and Puzzle Quest delivers on that front. Players can battle their souped-up heroes against each other with a neat option to even each other's levels to make it a bit more fair for newbies. Unfortunately, two player battles require that both players own the game. This seems like a misstep, as Puzzle Quest's sleeper hit potential relies on word of mouth. Why not make it easier for others to try out the game? Given the nature of the game, wouldn't even a hot-seat battle be possible?


Barring head-scratching omissions in multiplayer and slightly iffy touch control, Puzzle Quest does a great job at taking a free game and adding enough content to make it worthwhile. Not only is the single-player campaign above and beyond most other puzzle games, but it's deep and lengthy enough to warrant a purchase for those who don't have anybody else to play against. Kudos to 1st Playable for combining two great genres that surprisingly play great together.

final score 8.5/10

Staff Avatar Tristan Cooper
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"Get out the umbrellas..."

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