Monday, January 10, 2011

App O' The Mornin': Puzzle Quest 2 Review

Grade: A (for gameplay), D (for app programming)
Price: $10

In a moment, I will praise Puzzle Quest 2 for its clever gameplay, improvements upon the original, and vast amount of content. All of these compliments will be sincere, since I like the game a lot and return to it often.

First, however, I need to address a comment directly to Namco, Infinite Interactive, and SparkPlug Games, specifically: What the hell were you thinking? A 1.2 GB app? For Puzzle Freaking Quest? Infinity Blade is 331 MB. Rage is 537 MB. Angry Birds has made a bazillion gazillion dollars on less than 17 MB.

And I need another 1.5 GB free if I want to update it!?

I understand this is a port, and ports have their own challenges. I get that. But there is no reason on earth that the content of Puzzle Quest 2 needs to take up that much real estate on a device that already has limited available space.

I'm not even sure why it takes up so much space. The download is only 574 MB, which is about the same size as the PC version. Yet the drive usage balloons to 1.2 GB on the device, and it wouldn't let me update until I'd cleared 1.5 GB of space. I didn't think apps decompressed during install. If someone knows something I don't, please let me know and I'll update this review.

Also: load times are excessive. Even with full free memory, I've had a couple of 1 minute transitions from one small, basic location screen to the next.

Okay, end of rant: onto the gameplay.

When the first Puzzle Quest crossed my desk about 3 years ago, my first reaction was: Dumbest idea ever. An RPG in which you're dropped into a version of Bejeweled every time you fought with an enemy? As I began the game, I was still thinking this has got to be the stupidest-

[Tom spends spends a couple hours utterly engrossed in the original Puzzle Quest.]

Okay, scratch that: that has got the be the greatest idea ever.

I don't know why it works. I'm a game guy, so I should be able to get a handle on the whys and wherefores of game design effectiveness, but where Puzzle Quest is concerned, I'm not sure I can. It shouldn't work. This isn't "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter." This is "You got your Bejeweled in my Ultima." Those are two experiences I really don't need in the same place, like showering and origami, yet the design is so good and the gameplay works so perfectly that you realize you're playing something new and wonderful.

Puzzle Quest 2 improves on the original in every way possible. The adventuring element is heavily pumped up, with a great use of isometric landscapes, narrative, questing, and NPCs. There's a real landscape to explore, with multiple locations, people, treasures, and challenges. Character development is deeper, and the whole games benefits from more of everything. The match-3-driven combat sequences remain the highlight, retaining their oddly addictive quality while adding depth to all aspects of combat.

For those who aren't familiar with the way Puzzle Quest works, it's actually quite simple. When you encounter a foe, your drop into a single screen combat interface. At the center are gems of different colors, which each side matches to fuel spells and special attacks. There are also skull "gems" (pure damage) and "fist" gems (which power weapon strikes).  Skills, stats, weapons, armor, and other bonuses combine with the match-3 (or more) mechanic to make for a truly novel and engaging combat system.

In addition to the size problems, PQ2 suffers from some shrinking pains on an iPhone/iPod Touch. Some of the buttons don't register input consistently, and they're just too close together. Interactive text should be a little larger and more spread out. I'd rather have a button or text obscuring the screen than have to keep poking at it to make it register.

Really, though, this is just a good game. Due to its size and cost, I'm not sure I can recommend it without reservations, but I can certainly recommend it as an utterly engrossing and entertaining twist on the RPG formula.


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