Puzzle Quest 2
All in all, it feels like Puzzle Quest 2 on the DS is very limited by the hardware
- Engrossing single-player campaign, challenging A.I. opponents, improved interface for town and dungeon maps is a good touch
- Somewhat light on features, no online multiplayer mode, extremely dated graphics don't take advantage of the DS engine whatsoever
Puzzle Quest 2 on the Nintendo DS definitely isn't going to win any awards for its archaic graphics and dated interface, but the core gameplay still proves addictive enough that it should keep RPG and puzzle fans entertained.
Price$ 49.95 (AUD)
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It's no secret that the first Puzzle Quest was a huge hit amongst iPhone users as well as more traditional gamers, but the overall package was actually a bit of a mess. Not only did gamers have to micro-manage a questing warrior around various towns and castles, but the single-player campaign had an overabundance of gimmicks -- mounts, captured enemies, property management, and so on -- that really took away from the main puzzle element. Thankfully, Puzzle Quest 2 on the DS is a much more streamlined experience, although it certainly could've benefited from some polish in the presentation department.
Unlike the previous Puzzle Quest, only four character classes are available, and much of your time is spent wandering in interconnected dungeons, rather than traversing from kingdom to kingdom. In a way, it's certainly a more focused experience, as the one-on-one battle mechanics are the most central part of progression this time around. Once again, there is an overarching story about the rise of an evil force in the game's peaceful kingdom, but it's largely a generic tale meant to provide some semblance of a background for the RPG-puzzle combat.
Interestingly enough, the brutal downsizing in Puzzle Quest 2's battle system actually works in the game's favor. There's another element to offense now, thanks in large part to the new "gauntlet" gems that allow you to physically attack a monster with your equipped weapons. In addition to that, you can still dish out some additional damage by matching skull gems and casting color-coded magic. Instead of having to waste turns trying to gather money while your enemy pecks away at your health, experience and gold is automatically rewarded at the end of each encounter. While that may not sound like a lot on paper, it dramatically changes the pace of the game, so much so that a single poorly planned move can put your warrior on the wrong end of a lengthy gem combo.
Thankfully, Puzzle Quest 2 isn't a punishing experience. While the majority of the game's enemy A.I. appears to be borderline psychic -- even on the normal difficulty level -- losing a battle only forces you to try again later. Each type of monster, from tiger-man-beasts to the undead, requires some degree of trial-and-error before knowing how to effectively deal with them. Since you also gain experience from losses, it's practically impossible to hit a brick wall where you can't level up. Moreover, Puzzle Quest 2 also offers a quick-battle option that lets you further increase your gold and experience outside of the main game. It's the ultimate solution for people who hate random battles.
After a week's worth of playtime, I'm dozens of hours into the game, and most of that has contributed to fighting repeated battles and tackling side-quests, of which Puzzle Quest 2 has several. As my character's gained extra abilities, armor, and items, I've found myself really experimenting with my battle tactics. Brute force is the easiest way to play, but magic users and assassin players will enjoy a unique challenge.
Even though I don't have many gripes with Puzzle Quest 2, there are some noticeable shortcomings that really take a while to get used to. For one, the graphics look ancient. If it wasn't for the touch screen, this could easily be mistaken for a Game Boy Advance game, and the artwork that otherwise looks beautiful on Xbox Live and iPhone just pales in comparison on the DS. It really would have been nice if the visuals had gotten a different touch, or at least some better drawings for this version. It's clear in every facet of this game that the preferred version of Puzzle Quest 2 will be for PC and Xbox 360, and it pains me to think that there's no PSP version in the works this time around.
All in all, I really feel like Puzzle Quest 2 on the DS is very limited by the hardware. While it's unrealistic for this port to look anywhere as good as the Xbox Live and PC versions, I at least would've liked some form of online multiplayer to give the port a little more replay value. Still, if you prefer a handheld version of the game (and don't want to wait for the iPhone and iPod releases), you can nevertheless get plenty of hours out of the game before you get anywhere close to finishing up this adventure.
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