RPS Advent Game-o-Calendar: December 12th

By Kieron Gillen on December 12th, 2007 at 8:17 pm.

Chocolate. There’s got to be some around here somewhere. There’s none in the cupboard. There’s none beneath the desk. There’s none in any of the RPS-towers crates. There’s no chocolate any-bleeding-where. I give up. Better open a window on our Fairtrade advent calendar.

FIVE GOLD PIECES!

Mein Gott! What’s this?

IT’S CHOCOLATE. Om nom nom nom!

Since I’m sated, you better be too.

It’s: Puzzle Quest: Challenge Of the Warlords!

Adventurer is orcish for genocidal thieves. True fact.

Of the puzzle game troika that’s dominated our affections this year – Bookworm Adventures, You-know-whattle and this – Puzzle Quest is the one that is closest to the perception of “traditional” PC game. The other two are deliberately quick-fire games that abstractly you can play quickly, and only their immense charm leads to you playing for hours on end, Puzzle Quest is – from the off – looking for a long-haul. In fact, despite its DS incarnation initially attracting attention, it’s roots are buried deeply in the PC. Don’t let the Manga-styled artwork distract you. It’s actually set in the none-more-geek Warlords universe – of Warlords and Warlords Battlecry fame – and is even the work of the same designer, Steve Fawkner. And, in terms of the resultant game, it’s as big a surprise if Gary Grigsby decided his new game should be a rhythm-action dancemat game based around the collected work of Abba. Or if Miyamoto decided to convert a Dostoevsky into a hyper-serious hex based war game (Super Karamazov Brothers, perhaps). Or something.

Frankly, Puzzle Quest is a stroke of genius. Take a standard light RPG – including weapon collection, combat, quests, sieges, crafting, training pets and whatever – and wherever they’d be any kind of conflict resolutin, lob in a game of Bejeweled.

Another of Puzzle Quest's brutal melee.

That he thought of it is a Miracle. That it works is a second miracle. Seriously, someone call the Vatican. Someone, somewhere needs to beatified.

The standard game sees your character facing off against a creature. If you create a line of skulls, you damage the opposition. If you create a coloured line, you gain mana of that colour, which can be used to power your special abilities. If you get purple stars or gold, you gain extra experience points or gold respectively. Instead of taking a move, you can use one of your powers. And the enemy are doing exactly the same thing.

It’s very simple, but – by adding this second level of characters above the conflict – leads to a unique set of tactical challenges on the situation. For example, depending on what character class you take, you gain a different set of abilities. This means you’ll need to harvest a different set of mana to power them – so, for example, as a Warrior you’ll be trying to get as much red mana as possible, required for your best attacks. Depending on what equipment you’ve picked up leads to other considerations too – for example, the regeneration-aiding troll rings require you to keep your blue-mana reservoir above a certain level to start your wounds closing up. So, do you go for red or blue first, given the choice? Of course, each /enemy/ also has their own abilities and mana-interests. Playing defensively, you can choose to deny enemies the resources they require – for example, fire elementals abilities burn through red mana, including being able to use it for hit points. STOP THEM GETTING RED MANA AT ALL COSTS.

Fire elemental? Plain Mental.

You’re also amazed that they find subtle variations of bejeweled games to simulate the different tasks – so, while you’ll be using the same mechanics to craft runes or capture monsters or whatever, there’s enough little differences to keep things fresh. For example, when crafting, rather than just clearing lines, you have to clear the entire screen, turning it into something much more akin to a straight puzzler. Puzzle Quest is a game which has absolute faith in its choice of mechanics. That playing Bejeweled to simulate kicking the living shit out of a troll never once seems ludicrous is a sign of the upmost faith it keeps in itself.

It’s not quite perfect, but its failings are the sort of things which are only brought up by people who’ve played it for twenty hours. And – y’know – if you’ve got twenty hours of fun out of a game, it’s not that bad. For example, there’s nagging suspicions that the AI cheats by precognisantly knowing what gems are going to fall into the board, so setting off mass combos. I suspect it’s wrong – but it’s a side effect of the game’s intrinsic unpredictability. Your get strokes of luck, good and bad, and – when they involve line after lines exploding in hyperbright visuals, and hit-points plummeting, it’s easy to curse cheating AI.

Or it may just be cheating.

I honestly don’t care. It’s too much fun to care. If you haven’t played it, the demo’s available here and to purchase from here. It’s fascinating, for me, by being the best example of how the structure associated with one sort of game can be used to enliven and add meaning to a completely different sort (For example, that it took until Unreal Tournament 3 to try and insert a story into the single-player amazes me. It’s not as if there are a dozen interesting single-player approaches people use in 1-on-1 fighting games to distract the fact you’ve been button mashing for the past 20 years).

It’s not the best puzzle game in the world. And it’s certainly not the best RPG in the world. But it’s the best Puzzle Quest in the world, and that’s all that matters.

The experience is the point.

Sexual... tension.

(That Experience Points pun sooo didn’t work – Gillen’s Subconscious)

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27 Comments »

  1. Lou says:

    Must be the only game where I’ve played the PC demo to get an impression of the at the time unreleased DS version (which I then bought because it was released months earlier).

  2. Garth says:

    Why the hell was there a Demo of this game out a year ago, and only now is it coming out for the PC?

    I bought the DS version, but I could never get myself to play very far. You’d get to some stupidly hard enemy (the Bat In The Belfry is infamous) and have to play it 30 times to beat it. This often occured because you needed a better board setup, and it would change each time you re-challenged the enemy (although, oddly, it would reset everytime you turned the game off…)

    Frankly, the A.I. does cheat, and you can test so because, as I mentioned, it does the same setup each time. The enemy will, 90% of the time, pull off retarded long combos where I have, literally, went, made a sandwich, started eating, it, sat down, and their turn was still going.

  3. Jon says:

    Played through the demo and I can see why someone would hack the game… If you go too long without making a move it will give you a clue to one gem that can be swapped. Never do this gem unless you have to, most of the time it set up the AI for some crazily long combo.

    Nice game though, I would prefer the AI to be toned down a little.

  4. Pokeylope De'ath says:

    I would prefer the AI to be toned down a little.

    I would prefer the AI not to be a filthy, disgusting, cheating little trollop whose seemingly ineffable awareness of future events sucks all enjoyment from even the most trivial encounter.

    DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE

    So, er, yeah.

  5. BaronWR says:

    It’s *so* addictive: it does have it’s flaws but I simply can’t let go.

    So who’s keen for the sci-fi sequel they’re making?

  6. Sam says:

    So i played the demo, completed it on my DS, bought it on xbox live and the number if times i’ve been tempted to by it for the pc i don’t want to say. Puzzle Quest? Crack Quest more like. Hell, its just Crack. Good choice!

  7. Lou says:

    Always with the cheating accusation!

    Allegedly, the AI doesn’t cheat (devs said so repeatedly), and I am not sure, either. I randomly get combos as often as the AI does, and the AI often seems to ignore more obvious moves in favour of ones speculationg on a combo which then doesn’t happen.

    You lot just need to lrn2playOMG. ;)

  8. Nick says:

    I’d rather have it with some TBS. I miss TBS games.

  9. xeno says:

    I’m torn between this, Carcassone or Catan (on 360 arcade). I think this sorta-review clinches it for me.

  10. Garth says:

    What is this sci-fi sequel I am hearing about?

  11. malkav11 says:

    Sorta-sequel. It’s called Galactrix, and it’s apparently going to be a 4X space game with a similar puzzle-game based resolution mechanic…not Bejeweled, this time, though. I forget which they said it was going to be…if they’ve said at all.

  12. Kieron Gillen says:

    Malkav11: I believe it’s Bejeweled with added Tetris. Or that’s what I’ve got off the Wikipedia page anyway.

    Lou: It’s a bit of a digrace that demo situation, frankly.

    And, yeah, Devs have repeatedly said it doesn’t. Playing for combos which turn up doesn’t mean its cheating.

    (I must admit, I wonder *why* they’d want to make cheating AI. It’s not a game where the “challenge” is the point. It’s a semi-casual puzzle game, not an RTS.)

    KG

  13. Iain says:

    The key to playing Puzzle Quest is never, EVER, do the recommended move. Even if it’s the only move left on the board…

  14. Lu-Tze says:

    Puzzle Quest is fine except for the awful temptation to powergame on it. Deathbringer is the most ridiculously overpowered spell in the game, and combined with some supporting items you can win fights in less than 2 seconds.

    I have trouble when it’s so obvious how to powergame on something, because it then means that my two objectives in the game (progression vs. challenge) are at complete odds with each other. Choose either and the game falls to pieces.

  15. ShaunCG says:

    Good call. I’ve put quite a few hours into PQ on XBLA. A seriously more-ish game – although I really do need to find myself some better spells. And get more health! Perhaps I’m just not very good at the game, but I find it quite challenging.

  16. Thomas Lawrence says:

    Hmph!

    Why is it that via Gamer’s Gate’s digital distribution, as linked, Americans can have the game for $19.99 (at current exchange rates, about a tenner), but Europeans are ofrce to pay 19.99 in Euros (about fifteen quid?)

    When the product is identical and is being sent via the internet as ones and zeros, and the prices can be compared so directly, this leaves a decidedly sour taste. Does VAT alone really merit a 50% price hike? Or what?

    I’m sure this is a fine game, but I’m going to Google more until I can find a place willing to sell it to me in dollars.

  17. Garth says:

    My problem with Puzzle Quest was just that periodically throughout the game you’d stumble upon some retardedly difficult to defeat opponent — and it was almost never a boss. Bat’s In The Belfry, Troll , suddenly it takes me 30 tries to beat one enemy, when I breeze through the rest.

    And I tried the demo just to check the whole ‘cheating’ thing — try the Skeleton you have to defeat in the crypt. It did 65 damage to me in one turn. Three times in a row.

    Yeah, totally random.

  18. Kieron Gillen says:

    I haven’t tested it, but couldn’t that just be the patterns being non-random and the AI making the same decision, which – of course – pays off each time because the order of blocks coming in isn’t random?

    KG

  19. Arathain says:

    Hah, the AI needs to cheat to beat me. I’m that good, yo.

    Ahem.

    I mostly think the computer doesn’t cheat (except at the exact time it’s kicking my ass). I think it’s better at working out how the patterns fall out and very willing to speculate on certain pieces falling in. Which there is a quite reasonable chance of them doing. I think that when the AI gets lucky and gets a bunch of consecutive turns it takes the moves so quickly the player can feel kind of swamped, whereas I get move chains by carefully thinking about each move as I make it, so it’s not as intense by comparison. Regardless, the computer is rubbish at using its skills wisely, so it all works out.

  20. malkav11 says:

    I’m at the point where the computer getting hideously lucky like that is certainly frustrating…but unlikely to lead to its victory. The combination of judiciously applied Hand of Power, Fireball, and Flaming Skulls spells mean I am often generating 20-30 damage per turn several turns in a row. With or without combos.

  21. terry says:

    You utter, utter, utter bastards.

    Any tips for a level 7 knight other than die a lot?

  22. Tim says:

    As a wizard, if you want to focus on red mana, the Firewalker’s staff is awesome. You get +1 to damage for every 4 red mana. Leading to 20+ for just matching 3 skulls. This makes Flaming Skulls extremely useful.

    I can’t remember where I got it, but I assume I got it via the Minotaurs somehow.

    Oh Puzzle Quest how I love you. I’ll wait till it’s on steam before I buy the pc version though.

  23. bluespacetiger says:

    That’s it. Om nom nom nom is now my favourite onomatopoeic phrase ever. (If that actually exists.)

  24. Stromko says:

    I think Iain nailed it on the head. NEVER do the recommended move in Puzzle Quest, it’s always a trick to get your nuts cracked by the AI the next turn.

    I think I stalled out on Puzzle Quest when taking on multiple orc chieftains in a row (or maybe it was just one orc chieftain left, I forget).

    Screw it, I’ll go play it now. Maybe if I gain a bunch of levels the combo of extremely effective predictive/cheating AI and a really strong enemy won’t stop me.