Marvel Puzzle Quest: No, Really, It’s Good

No, don’t run screaming from the jaws of free-to-play tie-ins, they’re your friends! Okay, that’s a lie, but Marvel Puzzle Quest is different. It’s almost exactly what it says on the genetically-modified tin: a take on the classic match-3 formula with Marvel’s endless stream of heroes, villains and miscellaneous others injected for framing and plot. By all rights, mathematics and universal laws it should be at best a cash-grab and at worst a soulless husk of un-fun. Somehow, it’s neither.

I first discovered the game when my favourite Magic: The Gathering streamer, Michael Jacob, would play it between rounds last year. It was perfect for this, each mission taking no more than a few minutes and the half hour downtime where he was playing Magic allowing his characters to heal.

Characters? Heal? Allow me to explain. In MPQ you control a team of superheroes you’ve gathered, picking three of them to fight against NPC opponents in a series of missions. Your selection controls everything – how much damage each type of tile will do, what powers you can use once you’ve gathered AP from matching those tiles, how much health you have. They tag in based on which would do the most damage with your match, and then your opponent takes a turn, allowing them to be hit. Damage is healed out of battle simply by waiting, though it can be done instantly with a health pack, which are also refilled by waiting. Naturally, they can also be bought with the in-game currencies.

“Oh!” you’re thinking, “So you get to play but then you’re useless for hours/days unless you hand over the moolah.” But you’re wrong, you fool! The wait times are minimal and the amount given to you freely is large. Every day you’ll have a fully healed team and five medpacks, more than enough to play for a couple of hours. An hour’s wait will mostly refill all of this – it’s incredibly leniant.

Most importantly, the core of it is a great game. There’s so many options to choose from in how to build your team, all influenced by which covers you are randomly assigned and those given to every player. You might happen upon a particularly rare character which superpowers a certain area of your team, but this won’t be half as strong as coming up with a synergised force. Setting up to loop abilities–using ones that destroy blocks and gain more AP to spend on other powers–is one option. Other characters can cause blocks on the board to give you benefits, meaning you don’t want to match them if you can avoid it.

And because only the one character can govern how much damage certain blocks will do (i.e. the one who will do the most), it’s not simply a matter of jamming in all your highest level supes. You want a balance so you’re maximising damage when hitting non-optimal matches, using all the different types of AP generated and regularly rotating characters to spread out incoming damage. For a free game it’s incredibly deep, fun and never feels like it’s fishing for my wallet. It’s also remarkably well written: funny, light-hearted with a serious edge to the dramatic events unfolding. You know, like a comic book?

What reminded me of its existence and got me hooked again was the announcement that an anniversary week was currently running. There’s double rewards and half costs on a bunch of in-game stuff, making it rather a good time to start. You can play it on Steam and also various mobile devices, I’m told.

45 Comments

  1. Jockie says:

    I had to forcibly stop playing this, because I realized I’d probably end up spending a lot of money on it. Around last Christmas I had it on my iPad and PC and would transfer between the two versions depending on where I was, Steam says I’ve racked up 80ish hours and I worry what that total would be if you added the ipad hours to it.

    • kalirion says:

      I haven’t spent $0.01 on the game. I have, instead, spent 890 hours. HELP!

      It’s not even that the game is good – I’ve had much more fun with the normal Puzzle Quest / Puzzle Kingdoms games, and been much more addicted to them. But this one goes on forever…. I should just delete my roster and go back to my 1000 game backlog instead.

  2. Philomelle says:

    I assume you’re not very far into the game? An average 3-star character takes an average of 4-6 hours to heal.

    The game was fairly lenient back in the day, when healing used by characters such as Spider-Man and Black Widow actually stuck and you could tactically heal up your characters. It did set a specific precedent where pretty much everyone used either Spidey or Natasha on their team (since they were the only healers at the time), but it allowed you to extend playtime by a bit. More importantly, it allowed you to survive for decent amounts of time in PvP tournaments, which are the only way to obtain 3+ star characters.

    The developers didn’t like it. They remade it so all in-battle healing was negated after the match, sometimes knocking out characters on the spot. Now the only way to really advance in the game after you have the 2-star characters (which can survive in more advanced campaigns but not really succeed in them) is to spend hundreds of dollars on medkits and cover packs, essentially turning free progress into the analogue of a hamster running a hamsterwheel.

    I’m putting this out here because while plenty of people will join this game just to run a match or two between things, the game can and will infuriate anyone who’d like to make progress or tackle more advanced missions, but would rather not blow hundreds of dollars on it. If you tend to fall into the desire to progress even in games you play casually, do stay away from this one. You’re better off playing regular Puzzle Quest instead.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      I got reasonably far in both times I’ve played it and never really had an issue waiting for characters to heal up? A free medkit every half hour negates the longer waits for a 3+ star.

      Didn’t realise they’d taken out the permanent heals though, that’s a shame.

      I got 2 3 star characters pretty quickly (first couple of hours, one from my opening buys) just from buying the ISO-8 cover pack, which is very cheap and didn’t require any PvP at all.

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      This was exactly when I gave up.

      The health wall made it seem like the devs didn’t want me to actually play their game, so… I didn’t.

      • trjp says:

        This isn’t uncommon with F2P-funded games – developers who work on them shouldn’t really call themselves ‘game developers’ because often there isn’t actually a ‘game’ in there, just things which look a bit like a game but are really ‘pay to click me’ simulators…

        I played this on Android and found it quite humourously written but horrible to play and really, really grabby in the “pay to unlock this” and “pay for consumables” departments.

        Moreover, there’s no reason to play this when the original PQ still exists – it’s a game, not a ‘insert coin to insert coin” thing…

  3. golem09 says:

    I can’t play any of these Puzzle Quest games anymore. Not after Clash of Heroes. I’d rather replay CoH for the fifth time than start a Puzzle Quest game.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I wanted to like Clash of Heroes so badly but it was killed by checkpoints, unskipable cutscenes and load times far too long for a puzzle game (on PS3 anyway).

  4. MaXimillion says:

    No, really, it’s not good.

  5. Bahoxu says:

    I dunno. Its a decent match-3 game. Gameplay itself is pretty much free. I never had any problems with waiting for my characters to regain health.

    But the progression system, thats where the paywall is. Getting a 2 star character and levelling it up to the point where its useful for free is doable. But anything beyond that requires payment. And the devs are hunting for whales. The covers you need to level up your characters skills are EXPENSIVE.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Yeah, I played for a good while: It was fun, progress was well paced, it would’ve been a nice length if it stayed at around the 2-star character speed. Then, like every other mobile-phone-style free game, the brakes eventually get fully pressed, and you’re just barely skidding along despite them.

      I mean, it’s decent, but much of the fun comes from progression, yet the progression basically stops after your first, maybe ten, don’t quite remember, hours, because it expects you to pay to progress. So you might as well not bother at that point…it isn’t fun to buy progress, because then what’s the point of the game? Which is a shame, because it’s fun while you are frequently getting new covers you can put to use.

    • kalirion says:

      Payment or … time. Too goddamn much time.

      I have 2 maxed 3* characters, and a whole bunch of others over level 100. And 890 hours in the game…

  6. mattevansc3 says:

    Does this game suffer from the typical PuzzleQuest “quirk” that is the AI knowing what the next tiles that fall down are going to be and magically hitting 10+ combos on a routine basis just by doing a standard 3 match somewhere on the board?

    • Ben Barrett says:

      Not from what I’ve seen. Sometimes they do get ridiculous luck streaks, but no larger than mine.

    • Veav says:

      I wish. “Boss fights” are character vs character and they play by the rules; they get overpowered abilities you can’t acquire, but they do have to play with the gems on the table. Standard mook fights, they don’t have to play – they just accumulate points. So you have to play defensively and constantly hit them with point-removers or they’ll all proc at the same time and cut you down in one turn.

      The game in general is weighted towards aggressively, punitively kicking your ass. For me that happened even after memory editing in thousands of dollars of in-game currency (this was back when it first came out, they may be guarding for it now!). MPQ is a match-3 quarter eater and I’m honestly surprised to see it described in glowing terms… just, like, my opinion, man.

      • Ben Barrett says:

        I’ve been pretty successful paying aggressively with some way to lock the opponent down for a long time – Black Widow’s stun – or a big direct damage nuke to finish them off.

    • kalirion says:

      It most certainly does. The AI will often forgo matching the colors it needs for something it doesn’t – just to get a cascade going from tiles dropping from the top.

      However in all other respects, the AI is very very stupid. It will gleefully destroy its own tiles, and use up AP on powers at a time when they will do nothing or may even hurt or kill it’s own team. So it really does need all the advantages it can get.

  7. JD Ogre says:

    No thanks. I’ll stick with the original game, which isn’t forcing me to wait several hours between each round if I don’t fork over real cash.

    Get rid of the F2P bullshit, make it $10 (like the original) or $15, and put up a demo version that’s representative of the full game experience, and then maybe I’ll go for it.

    EDIT: Especially at these prices – Yeesh! link to imgur.com

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Those prices.. just ludicrious! I don’t mind some varierties of the f2p model, but this is simply awful.

  8. Phinor says:

    I stopped playing the second it told me to pay or wait until a timer runs out. No-thank-you.

  9. stoopiduk says:

    This couldn’t be further from my experience on the android version, which was just a staggered series of paywalls.

    When did we stop hating barriers to gameplay and start being grateful for short ones?

    • Ben Barrett says:

      I’d rather it had no barriers to play as well, but I also like that it’s free.

      • stoopiduk says:

        I suppose there wouldn’t be the same ongoing support for a game you can purchase as a one-off, but ultimately the timers were so annoying I uninstalled.

      • schlusenbach says:

        “But you’re wrong, you fool!”

        It’s obviously not free, if you have to pay to progress.

        • Mark Schaal says:

          You don’t have to pay to progress. Last I looked, everything in the game was achievable through normal play.

    • Baines says:

      Back when I was playing the PC version, it was a bunch of pay walls as well. You just didn’t notice it for the first few weeks. Low level characters heal fast, and at first you get healing kits faster than you could use them. You could use the coins the game gave you to buy roster slots, and you only had a few characters available.

      But then your characters level up, and it starts taking hours for them to heal even when they aren’t knocked out. You start getting more characters than you can hold, which is made worse when you saw how the game would throw special events that gave major boosts to certain characters. Etc.

      And the devs kept removing ways to avoid pay-to-play, such as the multiple cuts to hero coin rewards from tournaments.

      Worse, there was very much a rich-get-richer aspect to the game. If you had the best characters, then you had the best chance to win the tournaments that gave you the new characters and the extra copies to boost those characters. You got to use and abuse new characters to full potential for weeks before their inevitable nerfing, because there were decent odds that at least one new character would be flat out broken when powers were leveled up. You also got in before coin rewards were repeatedly nerfed, so you had plenty of character slots compared to what new players could get without paying, and thus could spend coins on new characters or on buffs (which were later nerfed) that would make it easier to place high in tournaments. (Heck, part of the reason given for coin reward nerfs was that people could exploit the shield buff system to place high enough in tournaments to earn enough coins to pay for the shield buff.)

      And I see Philomelle mentioning that they killed mid-match healing? That unfortunately doesn’t surprise me.

  10. Themadcow says:

    The biggest issue for anyone in Europe is that most of the PvE events (just under half the content in the game) end at 5am/6am for UK/Europeeps. Thanks to event rubber-banding and the like, this means getting up at 4am to play MPQ if you want to be competitive at the top end – and possibly even 2am as well if you want to be top 5.

    The devs have been aware of this issue but failed to address it over the last 12 months.

  11. TonyB says:

    I’m with Ben on this, it’s one of my most played games of the year, and was perfect for lots of short sessions around an extended period of overtime. The key part to not being annoyed by its payment structure is to never spend any premium currency on covers – they’re easily picked up over the course of the game, initially through the permanent story, then by taking part in the short-term story missions (normally pretty easy to pick up some 2-star characters through), then having a team that can reach the higher rewards of the story challenges and finally getting involved in the PVP for some extra 2s and 3s. Instead, you use that currency for unlocking character slots to make sure you can use the covers you find rather than having to sell them.

    You can get enough of that currency for a decent roster of characters just by doing the permanent story, and by that point you should be able do well enough in the story challenges to keep earning a little bit more every few days. I did spend a bit myself to make sure I could keep affording slots, because I was playing it enough to be worth it (~250 hours played, so I’m happy to have spent about the price of a game on it – none of this hundreds of pounds someone else said). And the healing side is fine – as Ben said, you get five medkits that recharge on their own, and that recharge means you get one back every 35 minutes (not to mention you often win a few more just through playing), so if you’re needing to wait four hours for a character to heal you’ve either been using the kits too quickly on characters that didn’t really need it, or you’ve been playing for ages in a session already.

    So why did I stop playing? Unfortunately the reason for that is a big reason not to start playing and/or paying: one day my save vanished, losing all the covers I had unlocked and a little bit of premium currency I hadn’t used. Although I probably could have put in support requests to see if it could be recovered, ultimately I’d got so much value out of it that I didn’t feel the need to be angry and instead used it as the excuse to finally move on to other games, but I doubt many people would be able to take it so calmly so it’s worth being aware of this rare danger.

    • Ben Barrett says:

      Yeah I was surprised when I went back that none of the stuff from the previous year had been cloud-saved (I’ve since switched computers)

      • TonyB says:

        Maybe they added that later than when you first played – I never had any problem with the cloud saves (as sort-of implied by the overtime comment, I was playing both at home and at work, and they always stayed perfectly synchronised). In fact, that was part of the disaster – once the main save vanished, a new one was created and immediately uploaded to the cloud, and before I could stop the other system from updating it had downloaded that one over its local copy too.

        In my eagerness to respond to the criticisms I forgot to mention why I got so addicted to the game in the first place: the three-character thing is the most interesting change to the Puzzle Quest structure since the first game. It introduces several extra tactical considerations – not just creating the character combinations that complement each other and minimise the number of “useless” matches you can make, but also deciding which opponent to focus attacks on to limit their options, and making sure the correct one of your three characters is taking the hit if your enemy has a big attack coming – which means each battle and even each move can require a lot more careful thought than other variants of the PQ series.

  12. malkav11 says:

    I think the core gameplay is good (and fairly different from other, non F2P incarnations of Puzzle Quest), and you can play for a while and enjoy yourself without spending money, but after a certain point it gets ridiculously grindy and limited without cash infusions and their business model is, to put it kindly, fucked. I think Marvel Heroes is a much better example of the Marvel license used in a quality free to play game.

  13. Dilapinated says:

    I’ve tried dipping into this a couple of times, but had to stop pretty quickly both; The flashing effects that happen whenever you use a character ability just.. Hurt. A sudden flashing, usually white effect that fills the screen, or comes close. And as you end up using character abilities as much as possible, this over time makes the game a really draining experience, and saps all the fun out of it.

    I wish there was some way to turn them off, but as it is I’ve uninstalled and resigned it as a game I’ll just never play. Is this a problem anyone else has with it? It’s not a problem I’ve had with any other games, which is a bit odd.

  14. mando44646 says:

    Free to play = no play. Sorry I do not support unethical business models

    • trjp says:

      I don’t like F2P much but I’d struggle to make an argument that they are ‘unethical’ by any sensible standard.

      They are often shit – they are often “not really games” but ‘unethical’?

      How do you come to that conclusion?

      • GiantPotato says:

        I’d agree that they can definitely be unethical. Many free-to-play games try to confuse the relationship between what you get and what you pay for. Even a simple practice like paying money for gems and then paying gems for bonuses complicates the value of a purchase, because it removes the direct relationship between what you’re spending and what you want to get. Most F2P games inflate these “intermediate” currencies (gems) on a curve, so as you invest more time in the game everything becomes progressively more expensive.

        And that’s just a simple example. A lot of these studios were making big noise a few years ago about hiring behavioral psychologists to analyze specific patterns of behavior, so they could better part people from their cash. Here’s an interesting example: If the game offers you something for a price, you’re less likely to make a purchase. But if the game gives you something and then threatens to take it away, you’re more likely to make a purchase.

        So, yes I would say that F2P games CAN be based on very unethical models at times.

        • lomaxgnome says:

          I agree they can be (and often are) unethical. But it is foolish to universally dismiss all free to play games as such. The thing that will improve f2p games as a business is for people to support ethical games, and to show discernment when it comes to business practices. Blanket stances if anything encourage bad f2p business, because those companies think there is no other way to be successful.

  15. lomaxgnome says:

    Doctor Who Legacy is much better and is so generous with free stuff it almost seems pointless to spend any real money on it. It can be a touch grindy, but has none of the time based walls or arbitrary restrictions of the genre.

    • trjp says:

      It’s also a more up-to-date and enjoyable version of match-3 (it’s Puzzle and Dragons, basically) – and tho it IS grindy, from memory there’s a reason to grind rather than just avoiding paying money…

      • lomaxgnome says:

        Yeah, I much prefer the timed movement style of match 3 to the one move per turn style, I find it very difficult to go back to the old style because it seems so much more luck dependent.

  16. Robin_G says:

    I want to like it, I enjoyed the first Puzzle Quest and have been chasing that experience ever since and put some time into this game. But it’s just not there. The actual matching is not as considered, doesn’t really feel particularly tactical. And forget putting together a hand picked team with synergy and calculated skill ranks, this is a free to play game mister, you will take whatever the RNG machine spits out and you will like it. In most games you would be thrilled to unlock a super rare character early on, but in this game it just means you are unlikely to ever get them again, meaning it will only have one skill at rank 1, and since skills and ranks also cap the level of the character, they wont level either, meaning they are a waste of a roster slot. Speaking of which, the further you go into the game your roster limit is a source of frustration, you basically have to save every scrap of finite premium currency that you can earn to open more and more slots or open your wallet. If you have any interest in playing, my advice is treat it like a marvel skinned Bejewled and try to avoid getting sucked into the persistent progression metagame.

  17. Donners says:

    It is interesting that the top five reviews on Steam, from people with 400+ hours of gameplay, are all negative.

    It seems that recent changes have the player base up in arms.

  18. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    That drawing of The Hulk is fucking awful.

  19. GeneJacket says:

    I played it for a long time on both tablet and PC, and tried getting back into a few months ago, but they’ve been increasingly changing it to the point that you’re essentially forced to spend money if you have any hope of competing in the PVP events, which is the only way to get decent cards. I love Puzzle Quest, I love Marvel and the core gameplay and presentation are great, but the odds are immediately stacked against you if you don’t want to pay for the remote possibility of getting usable cards.

  20. Soif says:

    I really wanted to like this game, but the path chosen by the developers makes this one of the most frustrating experiences with a game I have ever had. The hours I have listed on this game on steam is 1200 but that is not technically accurate as I had it running in the background for days/weeks at a time. However I have easily put in 100’s of hours into trying to like this game, hoping that the devs would fix the issues and it would improve. Ultimately I finally realized that there was near zero chance that would happen because the devs want the game to be this way.

    First the lets talk about the good – If you enjoy PuzzleQuest you will like the mechanics, the incorporation of the Marvel license is topnotch both with writing and character design. If you can be content with just playing the story missions and only a small subset of the available champions then go ahead.

    However if you are like me and want to play with the new champions when they are released and play the special events then you will pay. And if you pay realize that it is only a matter of time before that which you paid for is nerfed or sidelined or otherwise invalidated by whatever the newest cash grab from D3 is.

    Here is how it works, lets say you have a set of beginning characters (called 2 star for their rarity) and are having fun. You see that a new character is being released (omg Nick Furry?! I want to play that one too!). In order to get covers for that character you have to buy them with real money, oh except you can’t really buy them straight you have to buy a “pack” and hope you get the covers you want (along with a bunch of stuff you don’t want). If you aren’t willing to go that route then you will have to jump through some very specific hoops, namely you will be “competing” with other players for a chance to win the cover. You do this by direct competition (through a very very broken PvP style contest that I am not even going to get into its so bad) or by grinding away at special missions, missions that are designed to be overpowering and that will wound or kill your characters (requiring you to “rest” or buy medpacks with money). I don’t know if I can stress how grindy these missions will be if you actually want a shot at the new cover, we are talking hours of playtime, but what is even worse is D3 picks the times you need to play. This is ultimately why I had to stop, in order to be successful with the rubber-banding and the like you had to be playing near the finish of each sub-event and each main event. That means you can’t even just grind it out on your own time you needed to be hardcore during specific hours (forgot real life commitments). What I finally realized was there is no end game. That process described above is it. It doesn’t get easier just harder, and not from a skill level just from a time commitment and frustration level. D3’s entire model is to reward low level players greater than high level players to make them think rewards are quick and easy. Once you are hooked however you will constantly lose you chance at the new covers to the next wave of new players getting their hooks set. No only do I not recommend this to anyone I would be very cautious about ever playing anything from D3.