Puzzle Quest 2 is the follow-up to the widely loved and acclaimed DS and XBLA game Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, which took the simple puzzle design of games like Bejeweled and Tetris Attack and applied an RPG skin to it. A simple thing yes, but it turned out to be one of the most fun games I have ever played. The gameplay, at heart, is still the same in the sequel: match colored gems to gather mana, and perform spells to deal damage to your opponent and win the battle.
To spice things up a little bit, developer Infinite Interactive added another gem type, the Action Point, to allow gamers to use weapons and items in battle. Is it a waste? Absolutely not. In fact, the weapons and items are all upgradeable using resources you gather from defeating enemies and looting. For the RPG fan in you, there is nothing more satisfying than using your fancy new Falchion to do 31 damage to a horrible abomination (or maybe just a swarm of rats).
As with the previous game, you may choose from four classes to adventure with: The Barbarian (who excels at dealing damage), the Templar (who is hard to kill, but deals less damage than other classes), the Sorcerer (who can manipulate the board and his opponent easily), and the Assassin (who can manipulate the board to deal massive damage).
All classes have the option of being created as a male or female, which doesn’t add anything to the character stats and only changes the artwork/sprite for your hero. There will be those disappointed with the exclusion of the Druid class (my personal favorite from the first game), but the other classes play the same as the Knight, Wizard, and Warrior classes from the prequel.
New to the game is the isometric perspective in which exploration is performed -- a far fling from the world traveling map that you had to go through in the first game. Puzzle Quest 2 focuses more on telling the story of one adventurer and his/her impact on a small town rather than on an entire world.
The new perspective makes exploration more traditional in a way, allowing the player to explore dungeons room by room. Yes, you are able to search rooms now, in addition to other mini games that revolve around the game’s gem-matching: searching rooms to discover traps or ambushes, gathering loot, bashing down doors, and disabling traps.
Gem-matching surrounds most, if not all, of the game’s mechanics, which could be viewed as a nuisance. It does keep your mind in the game and focused on attempting to combo gem matches, but it feels like the game just throws puzzles at you left and right. I understand that it’s a puzzle game, but it’s okay to have a break from them every once in a while.
Speaking of loot, the newly improved inventory system is a much welcomed addition to the sequel. The menu system is much more streamlined and is less cluttered than on Challenge of the Warlords (at least the XBLA version) and allows players to quickly decide which piece of equipment allows the maximum effectiveness. It’s not as good as it could be, but it’s very much a step up from what it once was.
Multiplayer is back in the game, allowing players to pit their characters against their friends’. I did have a few issues with the feature, such as the game not allowing players to trade items with friends. I can’t use a Great Sword as an Assassin, but maybe my friend’s Barbarian can. Trading items doesn’t seem like it would be a huge feature to miss out on, but it’s strange that Infinite Interactive chose to exclude it.
In addition, seeing how extensive Puzzle Quest 2’s game time is because of multiplayer, it would have been nice to see the development of multiplayer-only characters. It wasn’t fair for my friend’s level 20 Barbarian to have to fight against my level 45 Assassin.
Instant Battle, which pits your character against any of the monster types you’ve previously encountered, returns. Mini-games allows you to play any of the game’s mini-games at your leisure.
Not featured in the DS version, but included in the XBLA version, is Tournament Mode, which definitely adds longevity to your Puzzle Quest 2 time. What is Tournament Mode? It allows you to pick up to four monsters encountered in the game for a team which is pitted against your opponent’s team of four; the first team to win by defeating all members of the opposing team is the victor. Tournaments can last as little as an hour, but can expand outward significantly, depending on your skill level.
The story of the game, which is basically the same for every adventurer you create, pits you as a lone savior for a town that is beset by evil. So like every good hero, you do what you can to rescue the town from the dastardly deeds of bad people. The story merely serves as a hand-hold to have your hero go on fetch quests or defeat enemies. There are some side-quests that only have your hero defeat a monster or retrieve an item, but they do yield some gold, which is always handy.
The few problems I managed to have with the game weren’t incredibly horrible. The sound wasn’t especially memorable. I know that’s a nit-pick, especially with a game like this, but nothing really stood out. (Then again, it didn’t stand out for being terrible, either.)
The only real negative I often incurred during play was dungeon navigation. On the DS, the top screen offers a map of the dungeon and shows where quest or side-quest related areas are. But when it comes to exploration, it becomes a bit easy to get lost. The use of fast travel portals make things a bit easier, but those portals are not marked on the map, which I found to be a bit of a hindrance.
For those wondering about the difficulty of the game, the AI does a good job of kicking your ass sometimes with incredibly cheap combos, though the game does have an aid arrow that shows you potential combos. I found that if the AI was running the train on me, it was, more often than not, due to a mistake I made during my turn. Skilled players will have no problem destroying their opponents within a few turns.
Puzzle Quest 2 is an incredibly fun game, whether you’re playing it on the go on your DS or at home via XBLA. It offers hours of entertainment through an intuitive and easy to learn gameplay mechanic. I would highly recommend picking it up for those who enjoy bursts of gaming on the go.
Puzzle Quest 2 is available now for the Nintendo DS and the Xbox 360. It will also be released on the iPhone, iPad, and PC, though dates for those versions have not been announced. Game Rant reviewed the game on the DS.